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Definition of Copying | In art education | In eastern society | In Western society

The definitions of copy and its various meanings in art

To begin to clarify the role copying can play in the process of learning art we 
must first define the word "copy". Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1975)
defines it as, "1: an imitation, transcript, or reproduction of an original work… 
2: one of a series of esp. mechanical reproductions of an original impression;…"
(p.251). In Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Internet on line), copying is
defined as the act of "duplicating an original as nearly as possible", while imitation 
is the process of "following a model or a pattern but may allow for some variation".

Historically, within the context of art, copying has had many different meanings for 
all levels of practitioners of art, from novices to masters. For novice learners, it has
meant the act of reproducing an original work for the purpose of developing a variety
of technical skills, perceptual training and eye/ hand coordination. For more advanced
artists, copying is the act of improving techniques, learning about aspects of
composition and style from more accomplished masters. For still others, copying is the
act of borrowing; the taking of some aspect or aspects of another artist's imageries,
with or without variation, and implying them in one's own paintings as part of the
original artwork. 

Some artists have imitated the works of other artists in the form of drawings or
small-scale oil sketches in order to draw inspiration for their own compositions. In 
such cases, they might not only imitate the compositions of the originals, but also 
try to incorporate their own ideas and skills. Thus, the process of copying becomes 
an inspirational guide to display original means.

In summary, an artist may copy other works of art in order:

  1. To record in the sense of reproducing or duplicating (particularly before the
    advent of photography);
  2. To learn about elements, details and factors that transcends time;
  3. To borrow from images and incorporate or imply them in some part of his/her
    own original works;
  4. To interpret selected motifs or subjects in a new fashion, variety and style; or
  5. To stimulate the mind toward originality and invention and draw inspiration 
    for his/her own works.