Saturday, December 18, 2010

Your Cheatin' Art (Now Updated With Bonus Strike-Throughs)

 “I would prefer even to fail with honor than to win by cheating” - Sophocles

Been reading about the comparative explosion in cheating in schools, especially at the college level, utilizing the resources of professionals no less. Fortunately I’ve never only once had that happen to me, nor do I think it’s ever very likely in an art class - although here's an excellent essay by an art teacher that it did happen to. Every assignment and critique is so unique and individually tailored to each student’s respective interest and ability, plus given the hands-on/over the shoulder approach of monitoring work-in-progress via thumbnails and sketches: it makes for a virtual impossibility to “cheat.”  It’d stick out like a sore thumb should anyone ever exhibit the artistic version of doping and turn in a piece that was obviously out of their league of capability.

More below the jump...

So it was with extra-special irony that while this very post was in draft, an especially observant student in the art department flagged a panel in a piece by one of my own students for their vignette assignment that was posted in the hallway. In her note left in my faculty box, she said it was "very similar" to a tshirt design by Budi Kwan (as seen above) - gee, ya think? While the guilty party did dutifully credit the accompanying lyrics, and so far as I know the other 99% of the panels in her pages were from her own imagination, here's an perfect example of never assume no-one will ever catch you the one time you try it. Also a literal illustration of how ideas can't be copyrighted, but the drawing of said concepts certainly are indeed. 
Arguably it falls under the peview of academic honesty, and for some would merit immediate failure if not outright dismissal from the university. However it also lay within  my prerogative to gauge whether or not this particular instance with this specific individual would earn either extreme, or perhaps it would be a "teachable moment" - entirely contingent upon the reaction and conduct of the busted upon confrontation. And while there were a couple other extenuating factors that mitigated my decision in the end, suffice it to say that's one lesson that'll never be forgotten, not including the bonus embarrassing example made at her expense. Teach 'em to do the right thing, or at least the wrong thing in the right way.
This incident is an interesting contrast with examples of appropriation (as illustrated right here with the recent Kinkade swipe) and against inextricably related issues with infringement, legitimate, deliberate or unintentional (re: "switching") and copyright violations and blatant rip-off hacks.

“It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, 
and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust.” - Samuel Johnson 

So far as I know there isn’t any other faculty members in the department that have students do exactly what I ask mine to, nor the particular way I do, and I also rotate materials and parameters for random critique pieces so someone from a previous semester wouldn’t be able to pass off work to anyone else to “recycle.” Perhaps the closest issue would be plagiarism, but I haven’t ever yet come across that that presumably doesn't happen much, and there are ways to discourage that. Mind you, that doesn’t extend to the time-honored exercise of a “master copy” – which I dropped from my regiment many years ago, mostly as there’s usually a couple or few other teachers that have already made them do it, or will. Juxtaposed against all this is the arguably legitimate sub-market of high quality hand-painted replicas of classic masterpieces made with slavish and excruciating detail.

“The moment you cheat for the sake of beauty, you know you're an artist.” - David Hockney 

Paradoxically my Beginning Drawing class is more than likely the only one that students will actually hear their teacher actively encourage copying another student’s work. To clarify that statement, by this I mean not the image, but the technique: for example if they are having trouble achieving a smooth gradation from darks to lights for a value assignment, then get up, walk around the studio and find someone else, or several others, who are doing what you want to do, then carefully watch them and see how they do it. Rinse, repeat. This, along with critiquing, is the single greatest advantage to learning art skills in a classroom setting, and it’s not just a powerful learning tool but a teaching one as well, that is an tremendous resource to take advantage of. Besides, there’s a funny thing that I’ve noticed over the years: I may totally forget a persons name, but I always seem to remember their piece of art. Similar situation with creating my own work – once it’s embossed in artistic memory it has a lasting impression - so don't ever try and pass another one of my previous student's work off as your own.

On a related note, I suppose that some folks - purists - might consider even using a pencil first to be cheating, or drawing from a photograph, or projecting, tracing, using clip art  – hell even using a computer or digital art is still looked at somewhat suspiciously. These opinions evolve over time and as more artists embrace current techniques and embrace technological advancements. Whatever gives you confidence, what makes it look better,
faster, and knowing how and when to use shortcuts are oftentimes part what makes an experienced professional.

That being said, all the technology in the world won’t improve upon investing the time and experience of making those marks on a piece of paper by yourself, for yourself. And following from that, nothing in the world can compare with finishing up a drawing that is the best you’ve ever done. At least until you screw up the next one.

“Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. 
It is either good or bad.” - Salvador DalĂ­


  1. I'm shocked, shocked to find that blatant copying off the 'net happens even in art class. But I agree that the more a student opens their process to the teacher, and the teacher encourages this openness, the less likely that the student will take a short cut in drawing or writing. It's when my writing students don't show me drafts or "change topic" at the last minute that I'm alerted to head to Google to find the source of their "work." Then I print a copy from the web and show it to them side by side with their copied papers. Embarrassment usually ensues and a better paper gets drafted and written. Usually.

    I hope you're not closing down this blog when you leave. I enjoy reading your thoughts on teaching, art, and the vagaries of life in the North.

  2. Hey thanks - in fact it'll be me who who's gonna really depend on the small group o' bloggers here in the Interior to help me stay connected!
    But Ink & Snow will go on autopilot for a month until I'm resettled and then resume, albeit without teaching, just more and more vagarie...

    And yeah, re: cheating, I just thought it was too funny to have this first instance occur while in the midst of mulling over the very same topic, and how that could NEVER happen in one of my art classes. Teachers learn something new every day...

  3. Well, Mattie and I will do our best to keep you up on what's happening in our neck of the woods. It's tough for her to type with all the ice-balls in her hooves, though, so the posts are slow going.

    Have a safe and wonderful move. Eat some (non-endangered) lobster for me!