Thursday, November 10, 2011

More Pirates? Seriously?

This is a reprint of a post that was up briefly yesterday.


I'm sickened again today.

As you're probably aware, I'm really opposed to copying other artists' art to sell as your own creation. This is a painting by Andre Kohn. I found it today on Marie-Monique's Blog, Art-Monie, where she showcased a lovely collection of his work.

I also found this painting today...

claiming to be an original by a well liked blogging friend of many.
Oh Celeste, I never expected this of you...

I find myself wondering about every other walking in the rain painting you ever did. I'm shocked and crushed.


I removed it from my blog after receiving a long letter from Celeste Bergin. She confessed to copying without making reference to the original artist. She admitted to copying as a form of learning and made it seem an oversight that she didn't give credit to Andre Kohn. She claimed it was the first time she has ever done this. In her words, "I know you wrote a big article on this subject and you point out that it is never correct to paint someone else's work."

I gave her the benefit of the doubt and removed the post.

In her letter she wrote of having worked very hard to earn her reputation and this post could ruin everything for her. She made it sound like her future rested in my hands. Perhaps it's just me, but if this were the case for myself, I would have been waiting with bated breath to see the post disappear and quick to thank for its removal. It was an odd feeling as I waited for a return email. The strange feeling that I had been had

I wondered if she was laughing, thinking how easily I had caved. But my thoughts were wrong and eventually nearly an hour later, I received her thankful letter.

She wrote that her other umbrella paintings were original. Her husband was a photographer and she uses his photos as reference. She also said, she paints over any copies she does and will be doing so with this one too. I took this to mean she never sells copied work.

I was relieved.

It's one thing to post about a pirate half way around the world, yet another to pirate out a blogging "friend". It seemed the best possible ending and I was pleased to shake it off and get on with my day. 

But some things leave a very sour taste in your mouth and stomach. While busy teaching my classes, thoughts churned in my head. I didn't want to go looking for incriminating evidence. I wanted to feel good about having removed the post. 

The burning question that haunted my mind was why did I remove the post? Was I doing an injustice to all the true artists out there? What about the reputation of Andre Kohn? How long and hard had he worked to earn his? Why was I favoring the reputation of the copier? 

The painting by Celeste posted is titled Walking in the Rain II. I wanted to believe her. After all I've been following her blog since I began blogging nearly two years ago. I liked her. She's always up to something different. She inspires a lot of us and seems fearless to try anything. 

I decided to search for her first Walking in the Rain. I wanted to believe she was innocent, but nothing was adding up. So many of her works are done on small format. Usually her large pieces are destined for galleries or exhibits. Why was this latest umbrella painting done on a 40x30" canvas? Who does that with intensions to just paint over it? The sour taste got sourer...

Here is Walking in the Rain by Celeste Bergin.

This wasn't painted from a photograph shot by her husband. This was another copy of Kohn's work. It went to gallery, art exhibits and eventually sold.

I had been fed a mouthful of lies. 

I often wondered why the Portland, Oregon artist's large works differed so much from her day to day plein air things. The quality of the large pieces always astounded me. I innocently thought to myself, wow, she really pulled it all together for this one!

Truth be told, she was copying. I'm inclined to wonder how many of those gallery worthy paintings she produced were actually originals...

I know this is difficult for many to read. I too had difficulty swallowing all of this. 

I'm quite certain these links will only work a short time. From experience a pirate scurries around trying to delete all they can that is incriminating, an action that only adds credit to their guilt. I later realized the reason for the hour delay in her thank you email. She was busy scurrying and deleting.

Were getting a better understanding of this whole pirating process. First a stranger in Spain where we wondered what type of person would do such a thing. Second an artist's point of view after she found out she was being copied. And now this. What type of person would do such a thing? Many of us feel we know Celeste very well. She's fearless and would try anything!

Next time I see this smiling face, I'll know what she's smiling about. Success. (That Charlie Sheen "winner" type of feeling.) The feeling derived from having worked so hard to fool us all. Yes Celeste, you put a lot of time and effort to build your reputation. How often have you been seen all over town painting, sketching? Seems a perfect cover for a pirate. The problem is what was brewing in the solitude of that basement studio of yours...

I'm sorry if this upsets many of you. Turns out I have zero tolerance for pirating. I didn't ask to be the Art-Police, as Kevin Mizner calls me, but when it falls right into my lap, I can't ignore it. Fellow blogger or stranger across the Atlantic, it doesn't matter. Pirating is always wrong.  


  1. c'est ne qu'une pâle copie du tableau de Kohn..
    j'ai travaillé dans les musées en compagnie de mes professeurs de l'école des beaux-arts , pour apprendre et comprendre.. jamais pour vendre! tu as raison de t'offusquer..

  2. Agree. Picasso said that great artists steal, but what he meant, and what we all SHOULD do, is take others' ideas, make them our own, and completely transform them. In the process, they're entirely changed and have become something new and different, not a copy.

  3. Powerful read Susan. Another very prominent American Blogger artist did the same thing and was called on it by a very prominent blogger in England. I noticed that the artist still does "imitate" and sells her work online. Even though the artist she stole from asked her to remove her work from her site!
    I am as disappointed as you are. I applaud you for bringing it out for us.
    Tell me, do you think that all the people doing paintings of people inside the museum for example, are guilty of a similar transgression? Taking the idea, not the specific painting. Nothing is new under the sun. But interpretation and technique of master works were consider ok under the guise of postmodern appropriation thinking. But living contemporary painter is a whole other issue.

  4. Sue, I think this bothers you for some of the same reasons it bothers me.

    Who can you trust these days? So many people are just out for themselves. Period. Morality is gone for so many. It’s not about doing the right thing anymore, it’s all about what can I get away with that will benefit me. All you have to do is look at the investment banks we bailed out and what they did. The Military dead in Dover being dumped in landfills. The examples go on forever.

    Concentration of wealth has made it very difficult for many people to survive financially. So many loosing their homes and money invested that is disappearing as more and more people retire. There is also a feeling of entitlement that has been foisted on people under the system we live in.

    That said, it is wrong to steal. Whether you break into someones home, or take someones ideas and images and sell them as your own. This ultimately affects many people in the end. Does the scamming and thievery escalate and continue? I guess time will tell.

  5. wow Susan, I am impressed that you posted this..wouldn't it be easy to just ignore, eliminate said pirate from our view and go on..but that bad feeling you had kept you from doing that. I have posted my work on Red Bubble and a few days later a certain artist copies the her own style but so evident she is copying. I believe that if we find an artist we want to emulate..we should copy enough to learn the technique..but not post it on the internet, hang it in a gallery or a show, sell it with our name on it!!! and then to lie about it...tsk tsk...
    Nice to know that her copy wasn't near as nice as the original artists' but a pox on pirates who mislead the viewing and buying public.

  6. Cette longue publication pourrait aboutir à une question et être un sujet de philosophie. Qu'est-ce qu'un artiste ?
    A mon sens, pour être artiste, il faut savoir créer et pas seulement reproduire. La performance de la personne qui reproduit est purement technique et non artistique.
    Tout artiste débute par l'imitation de ses prédécesseurs afin d'acquérir une certaine maîtrise. Autrefois on enseignait aux élèves de copier des tableaux anciens.
    Une question intéressante serait à poser à l'artiste qui copie. Quelles sont ses motivations exactes ?...
    Que ce soit en littérature, en musique ou en peinture, on est influencé.
    Je pense qu'un artiste avec ses propres influences peut crée une oeuvre tout à fait originale.
    Le sens de la passion ne passe-t-il pas par la création ?...
    Alors en ce qui me concerne je veux vivre passionnée... Et quoi de mieux que le jus de la passion !!?... Si peut-être les Margaritas de Mike !...
    Gros bisous

  7. A reader sent me this link.

    Legal Tips for Artists
    DO NOT COPY: Copyright Law Prohibits Rendering a Close Copy of Another Artist's Works

    by Cindy Hill, for Fine Art Registry™

    A reader recently enquired about the legality of being hired to render a close copy of another artist's original works. In a nutshell, closely copying another living or recently deceased artist's work for commercial purposes is illegal under U.S. (and most foreign and international) copyright law, comprising both a civil and potentially criminal violation of the copyright statute.

    Here is a link to the copyright law.

  8. clearly, you are, as a lot of us are, very disturbed by the practice of stealing concepts and calling them your own. artists are not just posting pretty pictures, this is our livelihood. this is how we earn money to pay the mortgage, pay bills, and put food on the table. this kind of practice is damaging on so many levels.

    and i don't believe this kind of painting is just painting "after" another artist. when one paints "after" another artist one gives credit to the artist painted after and does not then market the painting as their own.

    the lines aren't blurred here. there are so many paintings of specific subject matter, but each is unique to the artist painting it. that is as it should be. no one owns the rights to painting one specific thing, but please do your OWN version.

    i believe we all, at one time or another have seen work we've admired and coveted. if i had a dollar for every time i thought "i wished i'd thought of that!" i wouldn't have to paint for a living.

    it's clearly not good form, it's clearly not honest. that said, i feel equally as bad for the pirate as i do the artist that is pirated. celeste must be mortified right now. what of her reputation? and on a more personal level, it can't feel rewarding to post and sell work that one has copied from another. the exposure is so total and complete. everyone can see almost immediately what's been done. it's the internet for goodness sake! do they actually think no one will notice? is this kind of public exposure and embarrassment worth it?

    it took courage to speak out this forcefully. hopefully it will give pause to those who take part in the practice of copying and then selling another's concepts.

  9. oui je suis tout à fait d'accord avec Martine, la création: c'est cela être un artiste !

  10. Steal from everyone and copy no one. - Charles Movalli painting teacher.
    Wow,that is a disturbing story!

  11. Why would a true artistic spirit even want to do that? Disappointing ; (

  12. Hi Susan!... Your "discovery" is not new... nor a revelation to me! For years I raged as well when I found artists at juried shows... in magazine articles... ands even in the "works" of close and beforehand respected friends that were "lifted" from the originals of others.

    I am still greatly offended when I come across it... but in truth... ALL of us borrow from somewhere to create our own images in some way.

    Today... the need to "belong" in a turbulent and uncertain world is greater than ever. The blogging and art world are really manifestations... or perhaps infestations of people desparate to have "their 15 minutes" of fame.

    All that one needs to day to introduce themselves to the world as an artist is a HUGE ego... which all artists have... a web and blog template... characteristically user friendly and free... and a collection of "borrowed" photo and purchased DVD images to project or copy... and an art career is spontaneously launched!

    Most people can't envision a time long enough to create an actual reputation based upon a lifetime of work. Fact is... that many have begun their careers late in life... and don't have the necessary time to grow the skills. It's simply easier... to hide behind supposed anonymity of the vast web... and to "puke out" a poor representation of what they've illegally digested.

    The artist's work you displayed in the Red Rain Gear... amplifies exactly what I have tried to say.. The "copy" pales in quality or feeling... that's obvious.

    The ART world has become flooded with "enthusiasts... when the cash cow ceases to visit due to the glut of wannabes in the market, maybe half of them will take up lawn bowling... and just perhaps... some will emerge as true artists... having learned some techniques... and a bit more about the major essence of a truly great painting... one's True Soul. Maybe?

    Until then... just keep painting as you have been Susan... with your ethic and Self respect still in hand. Little can be done to "think"... or "act" on another less moral's behalf!

    As AJ Casson of the the Canadian Group of Seven quite beautifully put it:

    "Time is the the only critic."

    PS Please note my use of the parentheses -it's a borrowed phrase!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  13. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. It's sad that she can't find her own inspiration and really unfair to her collectors.

  14. Pirates are portrayed in the movies and on TV as fun loving people and our children love them. But real pirates are nothing but killers and thieves!

    Thanks for your recent comment on My Blog

    Take care and have a wonderful week :-)

  15. Hello Susan! You with the brave heart! Oh my goodness!!! The audacity of some people who call themselves artists without imagination, juts the skill to draw or paint lines BUT I will be the devil's advocate.

    FIRST and FOREMOST: I have no respect for anyone who copies a work of art unless one calls himself or herself a COPYIST like Peter Breughel the Younger. He actually was a copyist of his father's work, the Elder.

    I also have no respect for anyone who copies a work of art and passes it as her or his own.

    Now, here's the dilemma, artists inspire each other: Van Gogh and Gaugin. Soutine and Modigliani. However, those artists were at the same drawing sessions, not copying each other's finished painting.

    There are so many copyists out there in blogland. There was once a blogger who visited me on every post. She or he had a different drawing style. Then that blogger disappeared. I visited his/her blog one day and was so shocked to see that the trees she was drawing looked like mine, in my style. Oh well. I suppose I should be flattered. I inspired her.

    I am inspired by many artists and sometimes like to try their style but one incorporates that in objects like the way one draws a leaf, not copying the image at all.

    Thank you.

  16. Hi Susan,
    I came to your blog today because I am very excited. I ordered two of Don Hatfield's CD's and can't wait to watch them! Since he canceled his workshop this summer, I have been so disappointed, and so now I am looking forward to receiving them! Yay!

    Okay, now that I have read your very serious blog post I must say that my excitement has quickly dissipated. Maybe I shouldn't even look at the CD's! Here's my thoughts on the matter, for what it's worth.

    Recently another pirate, Italian this time, had posted one of my paintings on FB as his own. He didn't even bother to remove the image when I called him on it! I told him he could have at least credited me as the artist and he just thanked me for the comment! Wild!

    That being said, I, too, am going to play the devil's advocate for a moment. There are blatant cases of copying and there are huge gray areas. I was once accused of copying another artist's work, and I was very distressed, because I knew that I hadn't. The other artist had done a portrait that had been accepted into a national exhibit and when her friends saw my picture of the Renaissance Child (we even named it the same thing) on Daily Painters they assumed that I'd copied hers. She was kind enough to contact me to tell me about her friends' accusations towards me. She said she knew that I hadn't copied the painting because she knew we had both used the same reference photo from WetCanvas! I had actually added additional background detail in it that was on the reference photo, but which she had not added, and which actually proved I had copied an image and not her painting. Turns out we had both taken advantage of the free image library at Wet Canvas to paint the charming little child in costume at a Renaissance Fair. I was unaware that she had painted the child and she was unaware that I had painted her, too, until her friends brought it to her attention, and accused me of copying.

    (to be con't due to length)

  17. That whole episode got me to thinking. It's a fine line we walk as artists because as someone above already said, "There is nothing new under the sun".

    I was visiting the Daily Painter's gallery today and I noticed that my friend Karen Margulis had done a lovely painting of a poppy field. In truth, we have all seen that scene at least a hundred times! It could be a field of red poppies in Italy, France, Spain, or southern California, receding into the distance, with trees and sky beyond it. The French impressionists have done it, the California impressionists have done it- it's a scene that is visually so appealing that it has been done over and over again, often in an impressionistic style.

    In the case of the unfortunate Celeste, she didn't bother to change the position of the feet, or type of shoes, or the handbag, and that pretty much gives it away. Other than that, I know I have seen at least a dozen paintings of women in red dresses carrying umbrellas that most probably weren't copied from Kohn, whom I had never even heard of before your post, frankly.

    More and more I am adverse to painting from photographs, yet when I paint outdoors with my plein air group, many of us are painting that same red boat in the harbor, crescent beach, or grove of trees in the distance. Some of us have also taken workshops from the same teachers in the area. Is that a recipe for potential copying accusations? In my opinion, all of the painters who copy the style of Henry Hensche and do it well, have paintings that look very similar, and many of them paint together on Cape Cod!

    They revere Hensche enough to "copy" his methods, which includes his palette and knifework. Yet they are not plagiarists, IMHO.

    So to conclude, I think it is important to be vigilant about blatant copiers. But it is also important to have an open mind, before accusing someone of copying, since sites like WetCanvas create opportunities for artists to use the same reference photos, and the landscape and popular scenes within it are certainly in the public domain.

    As it says in Ecclesiastes 1:9- "What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun. "

    Thanks for the chance to discuss this.

  18. Thank you Paintdancer. WetCanvas seems a potential danger from the get go. Perhaps we should warn artists about the problems with using it.

    As for Celeste, she admitted to me that she did indeed copy Andre Kohn's painting.

  19. I must say, Susan, this is one powerful post!! and I agree with you.!.. I have copied in the past, a painting by Ferruzzi..Madonna of the Poor..which is hanging in my bedroom. I signed it Ferruzzi copied by Muxo. To me, it was a learning experience and would never sell it.

  20. Oh dear. I am first so sorry you had to be the person to go through this but then I am thankful it is you because you have what it takes to help stop this activity! I applaud you for posting this!!

    And yes, I have dreamed of painting but would never know where to begin:))

  21. Thank you for the encouraging comments on my blog, Susan - words like yours keep me going through the slumps.
    And I must say - this is a very poerful and emotional post - kudos to your bravery and ethical standards, Susan.

  22. I found something similar when I first started blogging. I notified both artists, because I didn't know who was first with the painting. Neither one ever, ever answered my email. I'm saddened by this, too.

  23. Under copyright current law, THE RIGHT TO CREATE A DERIVATIVE WORK IS ONE OF THE
    ARTIST'S EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS. (Section103 (a)) Copyright law says a user cannot copyright a
    derivative image that he's infringed. "Protection for a work employing
    preexisting material in which copyright subsists does not extend to any
    part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully."

    Some copiers claim FAIR USE when making copies or derivatives. This is an incorrect assumption of any right. Only the original creator has rights to make copies or derivative works, or grant permission to others to do so.

    Works in the public domain (such as Old Masters paintings) may be copied. Attribution to the Old Master artist is traditionally given for such copies.

    There is a lot of incorrect info about copyright circulating online and in forums. Many people do not understand that creating original work means coming up with one's own references and compositions. Copying someone else's without permission is illegal.

    Inspiration is one thing. Ideas, themselves, are not copyrightable. If one person tells another about an idea for a painting and the hearer creates a work based on the idea, that perfectly legal. But if one person shows another a painting he has done and the second person copies it (even if he changes it a little), that is illegal. A few changes do not make an original work.

    The news in your blog post is sad and shocking, but I'm glad to know it. I hope Ms. Bergin comes to her senses and makes a public confession and apology.

  24. I agree Susan, this theme is getting really, really old. I've read many similar stories and I give a pretty wide berth to account for all the legit shades of grey.

    As several have pointed out... nobody owns a particular subject matter. Many paint Canmore, Alberta's "Three Sisters" for example. But, every artist's interpretation should vary in composition, and in all the principles and elements of design that artist's paint by. For that matter, EACH PAINTING, by a single artist should vary enough to be sold as "original" work.

    Anyway, I for one don't want to re-paint somebody else's brain child. What's the fun in that? I get bored imagining a class where the teacher makes the entire class paint the same composition. But then, I'm easily bored!

    Nice to meet you Susan [and friends]!

  25. A brave and powerful post, Susan!

  26. Just stopped by to say Happy Thanksgiving.

  27. Ditto, what Rosemary said. It's one thing to be inspired by a technique or a general subject matter--but to copy a painting so closely and never give credit, then add insult to injury by profiting from it is just bad business!!

  28. Hey You Guys! Quit throwen stones ok?!

    I happen to enjoy when artists are insiped by artists. What could be more real?

    When someone finds and reflects art, it's a cool
    experience. Don't kid yourself, we all build off
    of the ones we enjoy. Don't we?

    So show some heart, and understanding of what is
    being painted.

    Celeste is painting and giving her all. I have and want to admire those that do.

    When you can Inpsire enough to get folks to take
    a stand for you, then you're on your way!
    God speed Celeste!

    Sue, I love your art work. If you focus on your painting, I know you can produce beautiful work as you already have.

    We all must keep our eyes on our prize.

    Bill :)

  29. I have been a victim of blatant copying, brought to my attention by several different watchful eyes. It's an insult to the original artist if you do not mention your source. And it's an insult to your own potential when you do not grow up, progress, and move on to discover your own sources of inspiration.

  30. I have been the victim of blatant copying, where the artist has gone on to sell her piece and have articles written up about her work - all the while ignoring the fact that she COPIED my original work, based on a self-portrait. It was a very personal painting, and I was very upset to see that someone copied it, sold it, and even got press for it.

  31. Artists copy in order to learn as babies copy in order to walk. But claiming credit for another person's original ideas is outright stealing. I've had ideas stolen from me, too, and that hurts. So drop in visitors to my studio never get to see the 'cutting edge' things that I am working on, and I hesitate to update my website.
    Meanwhile I am astonished that anyone would be so lacking in pride and integrity as to steal ideas! I can live down being hurt but I could never live down stooping so low as that.
    Thanks for this opportunity to speak!

  32. Recently, I became aware of a situation where a well known, much awarded artist had figurative paintings included in two books, "Pure Color, The Best of Pastel", and "The Best of Pastel, Vol 2". He described in the books how he saw the subjects, in their settings, and was moved by them and just had to paint them. One was an elderly black gentleman pumping water from an old well in front of his home. A beautiful work. The other was a homeless young man standing in the rain with a sleeping bag draped over his head, trash and soda cans scattered about, very moving. The artist told how he had added the cans to emphasize the throwaway he felt the boy had become.
    I just loved both of the paintings. One of them had been entered in a national show I was in. It was beautiful...And copied strait out of National Geographic.(specifically, the man at the pump.. the house and other items were his own creation). The other (the boy), was strait out of the Woodstock issue of Life Magazine. (even the cans on the ground). This artist is now writing a column for an "international artist magazine". These works were photographically exact, surely projected images. I called him on this...he sent me (and others)a barage of very vulgar letters threatening me with a lawsuit for "character assination", as well as several other artists who called him on it. He has been removed from two major art associations for plagiarism in the meantime.
    I realize this isn't copying someone's paintings, but it is stealing an artists images just the same, and taking credit for the ideas and work himself.
    Thanks for this opportunity to sound off, also!

  33. OK, enough! I copied Georgia O'Keeffe, but never pretended it was mine. (Wrong size, in acrylic, for a couple of things) Classroom exercise. We can't copyright images in an of themselves, but we do have rights when we interpret those images... so complex! But we must fight it when it's Real, then relax and do our OWN work, and put it online in lo-res form.


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