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Auntie SparkNotes: I Committed Artistic Appropriation

Auntie SparkNotes: I Committed Artistic Appropriation

Kat Rosenfield

Dear Auntie,

I post art on the Internet, and a month ago, someone requested that I make a drawing for them based off a picture of a character they found on Google. I drew the picture, posted it, and went to sleep. When I woke up, I got an angry message from a person saying that they were the original artist of that character. When I went to their profile, I found not only the original artwork but also a post made by her exposing me for doing so (justifiably).

I took down the picture, sent a private apology to the original artist, and made my own public post apologizing for what I did. I was wrong, I hurt the original artist, and I would never do it again. The original artist accepted my apology, took down her post, and started following me herself, but I'm still keeping my original post up and putting a link to it in the description. The link is still in my description today, and I don't want to take it down because I don't want to be dishonest about it. The last thing I need is for people to forget about it, discover it again, and make an Encyclopedia Dramatica article over it.

But then again, wouldn't I deserve an ED article? I was so stupid and horrible for hurting this artist. How could I, someone who's been drawing since I could remember, not know to not do that in the first place!? I've never done anything bad or mean to anyone on the Internet before, but now that's not true. Am I a mean person? Or am I just stupid?


As in, no, you're not mean, and no, you're not stupid—and in truth, Auntie SparkNotes is more than a little bewildered that these are the only options available! I mean, how about you made a mistake? One for which you apologized immediately, and which was hardly a catastrophe to begin with?! Even if your particular creative community considers it in bad taste to produce an original piece based on someone else's character (and considering the ubiquity of fan art on the internet in general, I think it's safe to say that this is hardly a universal position), the original artist was not hurt by your drawing in any objective sense of the word. Offended, maybe, or annoyed. But the idea that you harmed her is patently absurd, and you are being ridiculously hard on yourself over what was, at worst, an unintended breach of etiquette.

So as for what you deserve, sweet pea, it's to move on with your life and your art without giving this another thought. To continue dwelling on it and apologizing for it is to imbue it with a significance it just doesn't deserve. You are a person. You contain multitudes. And while you will of course make mistakes, you are not defined by them, and you certainly do not have to spend the rest of your life apologizing for them—regardless of what the outrage junkies in your digital social circle might think.

Which brings me to this: to condemn you as mean, thoughtless, stupid, and/or horrible for having unwittingly produced a drawing based on a character invented by someone else is something that no reasonable or decent person should do. But if that kind of condemnation is par for the course in your particular community—and if you can't even move on after apologizing for a mistake because people are just that eager to dig up your old dirt and make you feel bad about it, forever — then I'd like you to think seriously and honestly about whether this community is really the best place for you to hang around.

Because the most disturbing thing about your letter is not that you failed to follow the best practices for internet artists; it's that you seem to have internalized some intensely dysfunctional ideas about how you deserve to be treated by your peers online. The dynamic you've described isn't just incredibly unhealthy, but the virtual antithesis of the kind of messy experimentation that artists should be free to indulge in. Nobody ever produced great art by being cautious and frightened, and nothing kills creativity faster than having to live in terror of ever making a mistake. And if it's making you unhappy (and for what it's worth, it sure sounds like it is), then maybe it's time to give yourself the gift of a little distance, and a little space, to focus more on your art and less on how other people react to it. In addition to the benefits to your mental health, you might make something incredible.

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Topics: Life
Tags: auntie sparknotes, plagiarism, advice, mistakes, tumblr, feeling guilty

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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