Shades of Grey (Areas)

Plagiarism itself is not a grey area.

It’s black and white.

But what about being influenced, reminded, informed or inspired?

My blog this month has a Theory of Knowledge (ToK) flavour.

There is a lot of visual arts/ToK overlap, but one recent ToK class had a little more ‘art’ than usual.

It was about sources of inspiration.

We started out by watching the fabulous Everything is a Remix video*

*Many thanks to Kirby Ferguson. See also:

Art, and the Arts, and plagiarism have a somewhat chequered history. The great man said, ‘Great artists steal’. Or perhaps it’s more a case of standing on the shoulders of giants.

Source: Pan-opticon ©, Available under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0), via Wikimedia

Either way, very little is original, and almost everything has come from somewhere else.

But how much came from somewhere/someone else, was it deliberate, and did you acknowledge the sources, etc

Plagiarism in the Arts:

10 Cases of Plagiarism in the Arts

A Case of Art Plagiarism


Academic Honesty and Academic Integrity

Source: Teesta31 ©, Available under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia

The IB takes a strong, clear and pretty much non-negotiable stance with regard to malpractice/plagiarism. The message is clear: acknowledge EVERYTHING.

The guide says the following:

 All coursework—including work submitted for assessment—is to be authentic, based on the student’s individual and original ideas with the ideas and work of others always fully acknowledged at point of use and included in a list of sources.

Acknowledging the ideas or work of another person: coordinators and teachers are reminded that candidates must acknowledge all sources used in work submitted for assessment.

Artworks presented for assessment will have been made or constructed by the student. For instance, a piece of fashion design cannot be presented for assessment in realized form if the student did not create it themselves.

When the student is aware that another person’s work, ideas or images have influenced their selected pieces for exhibition the source must be acknowledged within the exhibition text or in the curatorial rationale, following the protocol of the referencing style chosen by the school. In-text referencing is required for sources used to write the curatorial rationale.


Source: Jacobolus ©, via Wikimedia

So there you have it.

All submitted coursework must be based on the student’s individual and original ideas with the ideas and work of others always fully acknowledged at point of use and included in a list of sources.

The ToK discussion I had with students was not about whether plagiarism was good or badwe all know its bad.

It was more to do with the nuances. How, exactly, do you draw the line between making art that is informed by awareness of other ideaswhich is goodand making art that seems to have stolen other ideas (which is bad)?

After watching Everything is a Remix we discussed the usefulness of the ToK knowledge framework in relation to ethics. Students reflected on these questions:

  • Explain the scope, motivation and application of ethics: what areas does ethics cover? Why do we care about ethics? How do we make and explain/enforce ethical values?
  • What constitutes the language (‘specific terminology’) of ethics? What are underlying ethical concepts?
  • What is ethical knowledge? What are the methods used to produce ethical knowledge?
  • What are key historical developments in ethics? Are ethics now the same as they were 1000 years ago? (‘Human rights’? Plagiarism’? etc)
  • Have you faced ethical questions or dilemmas? What kind? (Personal knowledge).

Source: Kate Ter Haar ©, Available under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr

We also considered some plagiarism questions.

Many issues of plagiarism are not clear-cut, particularly in the arts. Artists (songwriters, authors, visual artists, film-makers etc) frequently use (borrow, transform, incorporate, integrate etc) the art of another artist when creating something ‘new’. 

  • To what extent is nothing completely original? (all creative work builds on what went before?)
  • To what extent is it ethically OK to ‘steal’ someone else’s work, providing you acknowledge that your work was ‘influenced’ or ‘informed’ by someone else?
  • To what extent is everything a remix?
  • To what extent is plagiarism in the Arts different to plagiarism in the sciences?

The class was a reminder that ideas come from a wide variety of places, and using (borrowing, incorporating, referring to, amalgamating, synthesising etc.) someone else’s ideas can be a wonderful way of developing your own ideas a little further.

For many centuries, artists learned by copying. Copying can be a good thing.

Certainly as an exercise in skill envelopment its a great way to learn, along with sustained practice.

As an issue, it’s certainly not black and white…