Is Your Artwork Cliché?

Creating cliché art is inevitable.

Cliché is often used as a derogatory label for art, but to me it’s just part of how creative products move through and inspire society.

Cliché is a French word originating from clicher, meaning “to stereotype”, which was the printing practice of making copies from print plates. Images could be created without change from the original over and over again.

In the creative world, cliché is the concept of overusing/recreating/reproducing an idea, style, phrase or concept without significant changes. Something cliché has lost the impact of the original creations’ novelty. (Ex. the 5th IG reel/Tiktok video you see using the same choreographed dance and audio showing up in your feed.)

With art, clichés can come in many forms. An art style can be cliché. Or a subject, color palette, concept, medium, and more can make your art cliché. Basically, if something has been seen in the past so many times that present work becomes boring, you’re looking at a cliché.

What’s wrong with art clichés?

In general, we has humans like things that are new and fresh. At first, a work of art can be completely original and an audience goes wild for it, but then as others copy it and fail to bring anything new to the idea or style over and over, it becomes cliché. Clichés don’t stimulate our brain as much as new ideas do. There isn’t really anything wrong with this, though. It’s just a preference. And some people prefer to be exposed to things they already know and love over and over again. Some people prefer the cliché.

The original is often just the one who gained notoriety first.

Somewhere in between original and cliché, some art styles become a genre. For example, Abstract Expressionism became a movement with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning’s work in the 40s and 50s, and continues to this day in present work.

Pollock and de Kooning are often thought of as the originators of Abstract Expressionism, but surely they were not the first to ever experiment with this genre. They were just the first to get noticed. Art styles and genres follow a lineage. Those who create and are recognized for a new line of work first are immune to the cliché label and their art will likely always hold more value than any derivative works created after them.

But the rest of us still experimenting with this style as time moves on definitely run the risk of creating cliché artwork. This is why when someone tries to create Rothko-esque color-field paintings now, they will not rake in the same money as an original Rothko.

Cliché matters, but not to everyone.

Artists that operate within gallery spaces or the more exclusive art scenes like New York, LA, or exhibitions like Miami’s Art Basel see the cliché label as the death knell of an idea. In these spaces, originality and novelty reign supreme. You don’t want to make art that has been seen before. When you use clichés in your art, you run the risk of getting lost in the noise of your genre and you miss an opportunity to add something new to your medium and gain recognition.

For the rest of us, there is nothing inherently wrong with cliché art. Avoiding the creation of cliché artwork doesn’t need to be your concern unless it fits your career goals. When you want to make a name for yourself in the fine art world, avoiding clichés is a priority, but not if you are just a hobbyist or a beginner.

In fact, when you first start creating, you are likely to make a plethora of overdone art, because studying and recreating what has already been done is part of learning. Boy I tell ya, I have made a lot of cliché art.

Can you still profit from cliché artwork?

I can promise you that people are still making and selling art that has been labeled as cliché for quite awhile. What is cliché to one is not cliché to all, and what is cliché is not inherently bad. Cliché art can be comfortable and soothing. It can be classic and desirable. If you love the art that you make and it can be labeled as cliché, then who cares! Keep making the art that fuels you.

Commercial art versus cliché art:

At times, cliché art can be interchangeable with commercial art. When fine art moves so deeply into society that you can find images of geode resin art on planners at Target, that work can be considered cliché, but it still has power.

The cliché label might just mean that the fine art world is done with the concept, but the commercial world is just getting started with it. And artists that specialize in licensing to large companies can make decent passive income with familiar and attractive designs.

Cliché isn’t a bad thing when the checks still cash.

How can you know if your art is cliché?

Determining if art is cliché is subjective, and there’s a lot of room for interpretation. My art is often cliché, and some have even called it wholly cliché and unoriginal while others have said they’ve never seen anything like it. Honestly, both can be true. None of this really matters in the spirit of creativity, but knowing if your art is cliché or not helps give you awareness of where you can successfully market your work.

If you can answer yes to one or more of the following questions, your art could be considered cliché.

  1. Is your art inspired by a single artist or genre?
  2. Is your art based off a single technique you learned from another artist?
  3. Can your artwork be easily reproduced?
  4. Do multiple artists already produce very similar work?
  5. Can you find similar art in commercial/retail settings?

If your art is cliché, there’s nothing wrong with this. You can still make a career out of it. You can still sell your work. All art has a place and an audience. I want you to make whatever kind of art you want to make. Clichés be damned.


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