ProWax Journal 1: Featured Article

The Artist’s Give and Take

 By Maritza Ruiz-Kim

“To create:
a.) to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes.
b.) to evolve from one’s own thought or imagination, as a work of art or an invention.”

High standards in professional practices, made up of proper give and take, bring out the best in a creative community. I’m not referring to give and take as compromise, but to the partnership of giving and taking. We give of ourselves as we share our ideas, work, resources, and professional standards. As members of a community, we bring our built-in values and skills as we forge an exchange. In an art community, there’s an implicit trust as artists share with one another. The understanding is that since creative artists all invest so much in their work, individuals will protect others’ work as much as their own. We take as we use resources from others to produce the best practices in our own studio work, such as relevant texts, safety and process information, as well as exhibition and funding opportunities. The ProWax Facebook group of artists who work in the medium of encaustic is one such group (see the About page here). This artist community thrives from rich exchanges and dialogues that not only clarify our positions on current art issues as we discuss them, but also challenge the content of our work, enabling us each to be more articulate. Here in ProWax Journal, we are offering to the public readership a “listen in” on some of the great discussions we’ve had.

Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums — they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on, at every level. – Michelangelo Pistoletto, in Art’s Responsibility

The give in the life of a working artist is constant. We strive to sustain ourselves and our studio work. Artwork is work in many senses of the word. We consistently engage with our materials and examine our processes, discerning when to solicit feedback and when to focus on personal vision instead. The output can sometimes be astounding, as it waxes and wanes with deadlines, day job conflicts, and the demands of our personal lives. The additional work of the artist—securing sources of funding, negotiating with gallerists, curators and so much more—is the necessary supporting component to the studio work of exhibiting artists. Many artists teach. Besides making the promotion of best studio standards an essential part of their lessons, they bring an exclusive take on whatever materials, technique, or information they impart to students. Collegial dialogue with other artists is an essential piece of the puzzle, and it also takes a time commitment. As we aim to better our artwork and practices, we seek out seasoned advice from others. An artist’s work—the creativity, teaching, community, and even the business of keeping it all going—involves so much more give before it involves take. Still, it is often a labor of love as creativity enters into every aspect of our work.

The future artist finds himself or herself moved by a work of art, and through that experience, comes to labor in service of art until he can profess his own gifts. –Lewis Hyde, in The Gift

The take is the half of the formula that is fraught with complications. In a specialized artist community such as one built around a medium, information shared becomes much more specific. Artists who work in encaustic carefully walk this line of giving and taking. Best practices for information on safety, archival work, display, and shipping matters should be published in the medium’s various forums in order to promote the highest quality artworks. Communities based on an art medium often share take-aways on intermediate and expert level processes.

Certain techniques might have a known lineage of attribution in a small community, yet there is a way to pass on technical knowledge without infringing on the creative work of other artists. Teaching artists who become experts in a new technique in their own work are able to go on to teach others what they have learned, easily citing the inspiration of other artists when teaching. Without the investment of time in perfecting the use of a technique, it is not only easy to pass on wrong information, it is easy to rely heavily on the visual imagery of a technique without knowing the intellectual and technical genesis behind it.

A serious artist does not look to the successful creative work of another and adopt it as his or her own. There is no creativity in working this way because the Art would be removed from the new work. It would look creative, but it would lack the supporting creative substance that makes it Art. Additionally, instructors should never use the name of an artist who is not directly associated with a class. These kinds of professional tools have more than a hint of pure marketing to them; they violate professional courtesies and boundaries. Creative communities that become rampant with “inspired by,” “in the manner of,” or “with the techniques of” take quite a short cut. They turn themselves and their students into product makers instead of promoting the use of true artistic practices. Imagery might sometimes become the provenance of particular artists in a specialized artist community, but if the highest artist practices are kept by art makers at all levels, an artist’s work will not be duplicated. An attempt at duplication is hollow and empty at best, plagiarism and/or copyright infringement at worst.*

As professional standards are assumed among a group of trusted colleagues, the freedom to share work and define the best practices for an art material such as encaustic can be achieved. Without this kind of artist community, the widespread understanding of the fundamentals of this specific medium can be misunderstood by professionals in each sector of the larger art world. With this kind of community, a healthy give and take occurs and high standards are discussed in a collegial manner, supporting us to make our best work. We can inspire the best in the work of our colleagues. Thus we will be able to see more of the kind of Art that moves, changes, surprises, challenges or quiets us in this medium we have made our own: Encaustic.

Ruiz-Kim is an artist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her BFA in New Genres from the San Francisco Art Institute. She enjoys exploring human inter-connectedness and she examines underlying sociological themes using diverse subject matter and materials. She has shown nationally in New York, Miami, Santa Fe and Provincetown. Her website is and she has an artist blog at  © Maritza Ruiz-Kim 2013

*These online resources can provide helpful guidance for ethical as well as legal matters in the visual arts:

1. Plagiarism vs Copyright Infringement, University of Connecticut
2. Exceptions to Copyright that Do Not Constitute Infringement, University of Connecticut
3. A Fair Use Printable Checklist, University of Minnesota
4. The Four Factor Fair Use Test, University of Texas
5. Visual Plagiarism, Academy of Art University
6. Visual Plagiarism: When does inspiration become imitation?
7. Plagiarius Awards

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