Dear Takuro Kuwata, thoughts on your post:
Thanks for inviting a discussion about copycats.
For months I have researching to write a comment piece entitled Bingeing on Ceramic Pasta and Bubble Gum/Cake Icing Glazing, which is about out-of-control mimicking. I will be posting this soon.
When I first saw your tea bowls with their pustulating gold, silver, turquoise and red glazes miraculously oozing from the clay, I was stunned. I still am.
You are one of the most impressive new voices in 21st century ceramics.
Those who have followed me on Cfile, social media and attended my lectures, know that my passion for your work is boundless.
I hope you will forgive me opening this issue to a bigger audience but once it hit Instagram it became public domain anyway. Your texts are important and I have done some minor editing:
“Picasso said, ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal,’ so we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas” absolves people of plagiarism. I am starting to question whether this tendency should be condoned.
I would like to explain the background of my own work. I made this red bowl in the photograph in 2006. The cracked surface is an extended interpretation of the technique called “kairagi.” An example of this technique, Toyozo Arakawa’s work, is also shown here.
The inspiration came when I saw Arakawa’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu around that time and took interest in Shino glaze. I subsequently experimented with Shino glaze, and this was the first successful work I made in this style. For this red work, I mixed the glaze with a specific effect in mind, and it came out just as I had envisioned. Because I started out with this success, many mistakes and failures followed, and I had to go through quite a bit of trial and error thereafter.
I have experimented a lot not only in terms of chemical effects of the process but with the look, design, and concept of my work. Once you see the completed work, of course it’s easy to then imagine how it can be further improved, made more attractive, by tweaking this and that. But in the world of art, I had believed that originality and inventiveness were critical. So I really cannot wrap my head around how those who make imitative works are allowed to proudly show and sell their works at major galleries”.
To answer your question, there is little you can do, though, I will toss out a few hints later. My small part has been in calling out artists who do “Takuro Kuwata”. You know who you are!
You may have been unprepared for celebrity. Perhaps in Japan this does not happen, but in the West shameless copying is everywhere, yet it was never this bad.
And the more your star rises, the more you will be copied. It comes with the territory. The kind of international success you have received is rare in our field. It makes you a model for those wanting a major career and they are envious.
You can’t have fame without plagiarism––whether you are a musician, an architect or any other highly talented creative––the second rate are always trying to emulate the first rate.
That said, copyists may mimic your glazes, but they will never bring your spirit and vitality. That comes from your soul. That cannot be replicated.
Ceramics is obsessed with what we call “glaze porn”. They believe that technique rather than authenticity is the road to success, despite proof that it is not.
In the short term, so much imitation can muddy the waters. It can exhaust the market after a while making a aesthetic look common, ubiquitous. What can you do? Your work was created within a similar, repeated vocabulary for a decade now. I have noticed that with some Japanese ceramists, they create an aesthetic and remain with it for a lifetime. In the West, there is pressure for an artist to “grow” meaning that they migrate to new expression after some years. It can be artificial “growth” but that is the expectation.
So, my advice is, if you have been considering something new and different to your current work this may be a good time to, as one of those who responded to your post said, “move on” and leave the monkey-see-monkey-do artists in your glaze dust.
Imitation has a fascinating history in Japan and please excuse me If I get this wrong. Some enjoy their imitators. The radical, ornery Kitaoji Rosanjin encouraged it by teaching forgers how to make his work. And as he did not sign his pieces, this has caused chaos in his market after his death.
Shoji Hamada, who also did not sign his work, when asked how he felt about his imitators, said; “in the future the best of my imitators work will be considered mine and worst of my work will be considered theirs”.
And artists all copy to some degree, better if it is from older roots than living artists. William Blake wrote that to make “new” art, one must drive horse and cart over the bones of the dead”. The work of the past fuels the present.
Relax for three reasons: long term, you are at the top of the tree and those who mimic your work will never threaten your stature, just muddle it for a while; your dealers and collectors, both private and museum, are sophisticated, smart and will not buy second- and third-rate. Still a shift would be good.
Returning to those annoying copyists, they cement your significance. One of my greatest compliments was that in China and Korea several of my books were copied, translated into their languages without my permission. Despite lost royalties I was thrilled. It was a confirmation of their importance.
The same it true for you even if that might be poor compensation at the moment.
From a devoted fan.