New Harbour Lighthouse Holyhead February 2020. Fujifilm 100 – 400mm lens on a monopod in a howling gale via Storm Ciara.

Do This to Escape Derivative Work Part 2

“Sweetie, derivative is not a nice word to say”


In part 1 of this series, I discussed examples of those who have successfully followed their own vision and were true to their own spirit.

If you missed part 1 catch up here Do This to Escape Derivative Work Part 1


In part 2 I look at the issue of artistic authenticity through the meanings of the word derivative.


I hear and see the problem of “what can I do? it’s all been done before!” in many photographic quarters. We all fall foul of this issue every now and again. The first thing I would say is not everything has been done by you, in your way. If you have an established vision and style is it really yours or is it partly borrowed from someone else?


The heart of the problem of how to move on from “it’s all been done before” with a plan is:

  • Having the dedication to keep on keeping on to quote Alan Bennett
  • Being open to and playing with new ideas – this is the progression on and off switch 
  • Investigate and try different or new technology
  • Trying new or different techniques
  • Combining ideas and style
  • Deciding what will and will not work for you.

I am not saying it’s easy or quick.

How do we do our own authentic pictures without permanently following others?

Here are a few ideas I put out last year that might help with this thinking process. see Use These 6 Tips On How To Come Up With Photo Ideas Part 1 of 2 and Use These 6 Tips On How To Come Up With Photo Ideas Part 2 of 2

In an article in the RPS Journal, Joe Cornish Hon FRPS is the Chair of the RPS new Landscape Associateship & Fellowship Distinctions Assessment Panel. He wrote saying success in landscape photography was more likely if done with an authentic voice. He then went on to say not being true to your own vision and style through derivative work is an issue.


“What frustrates me most is derivative work by a photographer searching for approval, rather than persuing their own path.” 

Joe Cornish Hon FRPS

RPS Journal Volume 160 Page 58



Hopefully, you can see why part 1 of this series was about “to thine own self be true”?


Derivative – copied, unoriginal, imitation, plagiaristic, derived from, unauthentic

Will Gompertz, the BBC Arts Editor in his excellent book “What are you looking at? 150 years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye“ uses a carton of a mother chastising her young daughter in a modern art gallery saying:


“Sweetie, derivative is not a nice word to say”


Newborough Beach Dunes, Angelsey February 2020


Strategy – who are you going to be?

In part 1 of this series, I used the phrase “to thine own self be true” as a strategic artistic statement of the highest importance. It divides the leaders from the followers, the creatives from the wannabes, and the freethinkers from the conformists.


Are you going to take the risk of not following the crowd?

For you, what are the benefits and risks of going along your own way? A business type person would create a risk assessment based on consequential impact and probability. A freelance artist may go with their heart and do two or three other jobs as well as paint to pay the bills. What is the worst that can happen by following your own path?


Everybody’s financial and artistic circumstances are different. Picasso was relevantly well off from the sale of his early paintings in Paris. Vincent Van Gogh never sold a painting while he was alive and desperately needed the financial support of this art dealer brother, Theo.


If you are not making your whole living from your art you are in the happy position to be able to choose to follow your vision and style, or not.

Snow in Snowdonia February 2020 taken from Newborough Beach on Angelesey Fujifilm 100 – 400mm lens.

Doing your own thing and derivative work

What do we mean by derivative work? Here are three different versions of the meaning of derivative work.


1 The Wannabe – aspiring, would be

We all start out as wannabes. It’s the reason why you start a particular activity because you see some benefit to you from progressing along a certain line. We all aspire to do something or be somebody, it’s the eternal hope. In the late 1970s, I wanted to be Mark Knopfler the stunningly great guitarist fronting the band Dire Straits. I still play the guitar badly nearly 50 years later.


The desire to progress of the wannabe is a great asset to have, without drive and persistence nothing much gets achieved. Through the Learn > Grow > Express Process we have to move on from trying to work like others and become confident of our own values and vision. The critical point is not only valuing one source of inspiration, take Ansel Adams as an obvious example for landscape workers.

2 Readymade – ready to wear, handy, expedient

Those wannabes at some stage of their career can become proficient in making imitation works of those they admire. For expediency, a wannabe goes through the stage of lookalike works. Hopefully, this is just a passing phase moving into greater individuality. Without the learning and growth into individual work, an artisan’s full potential is never realised to fully express their personality. Are you going to be you or a backed dated version of someone else? to borrow a line from Substitute by The Who.


3 The Lookalike – double, twin, doppelganger

To me, an obvious look or sound alike is the Canadian singer Michael Buble. If he is not a dead ring for the singing style of Frank Sinatra then I am a china man. I am not a huge fan of either singer but when I hear Michael Buble I always think, how does he get away with so blatantly stealing Sinatra’s style? My apologies if you are a Buble fan. As a singer with three Grammy awards and many more nominations it obviously works for him somehow.

Searching for the right thing in the wrong place

The root or inspiration for most things is probably not where you would normally expect to find it. There is always a highly diverse range of inputs to any final outcome. Creativity is never achieved in a straight line, nor in a vacuum of ideas.


Take, for example, The Bauhaus. What is The Bauhaus? The Bauhaus was a German school of modern art and design including the disciplines of architecture, painting, sculpture and furniture design. The Bauhaus was started in 1919 as a reaction against WW1 and the name means the building house. Its manifesto included practical and intellectual skills to aid social reform for a more civilised society.


A very early inspiration for the Bauhaus started in 1896 in England with a German called Herman Muthesius. By 1904 he had written a book called The English House around the philosophy of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. The book had a big influence in Germany to copy the British consumer demand model and educate the German public in matters of taste. The Germans set up a council with representatives from the arts and business to promote good taste.


The desire for a modern approach to art and architecture grew in Germany until 1933 only slowing and being influenced by WW1. The Bauhaus was considered to be a left-leaning body of artists and intellectuals. When Hitler became German Chancellor in 1933, Bauhaus funding was cut immediately and the college closed. In 1937 Hitler (a former artist) arranged for an exhibition of the Bauhaus’s work under the title of Degenerative Art.


Thankfully, many of the German and Jewish artists and intellectuals escaped the Nazis by fleeing to Modernist America.


Who would have thought the English Arts and Crafts movement which was against Modernism helped foster the German Modernist movement in a roundabout way? As I stated earlier inspiration does not follow straight or logically lines.


Newborough Beach Angelsey, February 2020. Man braving Storm Ciara with snow on the mountains in Snowdonia in the background. 75mm f 1.2 lens 

Three free and easy sources of inspiration from the art world

1 The Art UK Website

You now have access to over 230,000 paintings that you already own as a British citizen through the Art UK Website. 80% of the paintings we have in this country are held in storage, here is a chance to see what is behind closed doors. Much more importantly, is the opportunity to discover styles and artists work you are not yet familiar with. I have discovered the great work done by the Glasgow Boys, the Scottish Colourists, JD Fergusson and Josef Herman, amongst far too many others.

The site can be searched by Region, Type, Topic and Style.


The website shop sells about 3000 prints or framed prints in varying sizes through the British Museum. An A3 print costs about £16 plus postage. Whether you would want to buy any of the 3000 prints they have decided to sell is another matter. I found the vast majority of pictures I would buy were not available as prints. The cost of a non-commercial digital licence (so I could print it myself) as far as I could tell is extortionately expensive at £60 per year.

New Harbour Lighthouse Holyhead February 2020. Fujifilm 100 – 400mm lens on a monopod in a howling gale via Storm Ciara.


2 The Google Art and Culture Chrome Extension and App

I came across the great free Google Art and Culture Chrome Extension and App whilst looking for the non-existent Art UK App.

My Malware protection software (Gridinsoft Anti-Malware)  did delete parts of this download. If you do download the Browser Extension please make sure it’s safe.

Who knew about the Google Art and Culture App? It comes in two forms; I think the most useful is the Chrome Browser Extension. Note when the Chrome Extension is used, the appearance of your Chrome home page will change, the usual shortcuts are there but not in your face. There is a vast number of pictures and links to discover new artists and styles available with the Extension. Like the Art UK site, you can create Favourites and Albums. The Google site has a much more international feel about it with examples from every corner of the world represented.

One of the very useful website features is a map view to indicate what art is available near where you are.

I have the Art and Culture App on my phone but I find the pictures and info too small to be of any real use, hence my preference for the Chrome Extension on a 32” monitor.

A picture I found on the Art & Culture App I really like is “Untitled” by the American Painter Blanche Lazzell finished in 1926.

In this picture, I can see the artists thinking and changes of mind. The bit that baffles me is the area of white at the top to the left of the green. Any thoughts?


3 BBC Culture Website 

Get the latest news and opinion in the following genres Film, Art, Books TV and Photography.

This website is produced by BBC Global News Ltd, a commercial company owned by the BBC (and just the BBC). No money from the licence fee was used to create this website. The money we make from it is re-invested to help fund the BBC’s international journalism.


Series Part 2 Conclusion 

“Sweetie, derivative is a nasty word to say”

As freethinking creative individuals to have our work described by terms such as “Oh, that’s nice dear (bland and or boring)” or derivative meaning: copied, unoriginal, imitation, plagiaristic, derived from or unauthentic is not a good place to be. In Part 3 we will take a brief look at learning from our artistic mistakes.