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I try to move my students on to something I call "referencing". If in
their original composition they need to put an elephant, there first
task would be to find a live elephant to do sketches of...and since most
of them would not consider going to the nearest zoo to do sketches
(although my good students with time and inclination might), the next
stop would be the library or online, where they would have to come back
to the art room with at least 3 pictures of an elephant, preferably
differently elephants, and they would "reference" by making their own
elephant based on the essential 'elephantness'. (hide texture, size of
eye in relation to head, size of ears, tail detail etc) The only photos
they are allowed to copy 'as is' from are those they took themselves (as
we talk about photographers making aesthetic decisions through their
viewfinders, and if you copy direct from someone else's photo you are
taking their aesthetic decisions as your own).
Since my philosophy is to have students start with a thesis statement
and aim their work towards that end, I avoid the problem because an
unacceptable thesis statement would be "I intend to copy Van Gogh's
Starry Night", whereas an acceptable thesis statement might be " I will
paint our town from the hill, in the manner of Van Gogh, using "Starry
Night" as my inspiration".
I, too, have judged local art 'contests' and while copiers tend to nail
replication and have most probably the most polished of the works, my
eye has always favored original exciting works, while not as polished,
they are the more honest of the works.