Relationship Building

3 Easy Steps for Dealing With Copying in the Art Room

student copying another student

Class is going along beautifully when, suddenly, the idyllic hum of industry is pierced by a student’s shriek of, “They are COPYING me!”

How we respond to this accusation has major ramifications.

An amazing art teacher and mother of three blooming artists gave me the perfect narrative for these moments.

student copying another student

First, empathize with both students.

The offended artist is often quite agitated and feels something important has been taken from them. The copier often feels shame followed by resentment at the allegation.

Next, point out that student A was “inspired” by what student B did.

Having someone else “steal” your idea feels terrible, but having your work “inspire” someone else feels wonderful. Artist A is influential, acknowledge that. Changing the verb from “copied” to “inspired” flips the perspective.

It also illuminates a point students had not previously considered. Remind them that many, if not all, great artists have been inspired by other artists.

picasso quote

Finally, point out that your students are actually engaging in artistic behaviors by letting the work of a peer influence them.

The source of the original complaint is powerlessness. If a student knows they are influencing the work of another student, they get their power and control back.

Keeping the peace in the art room is not always an easy feat. With sage advice from my dear friend, I’ve managed to practically eliminate this ugly phrase by the time my students get to first grade.

What do you say to your students when they complain someone is copying their work?

Do you find this particular complaint arises more in certain grade levels or ages?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Lee Ten Hoeve

Lee Ten Hoeve, an elementary and middle school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She is passionate about making art a core subject and employing curiosity to engage learners.

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