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What Is Artistic Expression And Artistic Licence

Updated on February 11, 2016

Art is truly diverse: For many art is the term defining the results of their attempts to create an expression of themselves, for others it is the act or laying out an imagination on canvas or showing intense emotion via the written word or drawn works.

Artistry covers a wide range of subjects; from creative writing to drawn pieces, sculptures to paintings, or even a piece of music, many things can be defined as art.

Artistic expression on the other hand is the act of expression, utilizing your own imagination. This can be done by writing down errant thoughts, drawing out an imagined image, putting a unique spin on previous work you find inspirational, or even simply crafting a sculpture in a pose or landscape you had imagined.

Artistic expression is the act of expression via art, however not all art is artistic expression. This brings us to the question of what is all art, then.

The answer falls under artistic expression or artistic licence.


Artistic licence is the art of creating a piece of art based on something already in existence, be it a historical event or figure, reworking previous artworks or even simply creating a dramatic retelling or reenactment.

For many, artistic licence is used to allow them to recreate or show works with their own spin on things. For most artistic licence is used to "improve" on old artwork or retell a tale, usually in a parodic fashion.

Artistic licence is most obvious in entertainment media, showcasing a distorted telling of books or of historical figures in order to attract a wider audience or allow them to tell an otherwise "not safe for viewing" piece.

An example of artistic expression would be drawing or writing a piece set in a space-age utopia with original characters, whereas artistic licence may be the same space-age utopia, however the characters are historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln or George Washington.


Oft times artistic licensing may blur lines with fair use laws, particularly in the case of utilizing owned works or created settings or characters: because of this many may utilize an amalgamation of both artistic expression and licence to evolve their work, an example of this being taking another person's character and attempting to capture their personality in your own created piece.

A few of the more well known artistic licence that may cross lines with fair use laws would be narrative licensing or dramatic licensing, in which a voice over retells the events on stage or said events are dramatized in order to garner more popularity.


In modern day media artistic licence is used far more than artistic expression, many movies or pieces of music using the spirit of an older work or copying an old formula in an attempt to copy their success.

This, in turn, results in social fads and real-life character re-enactment that may fall under artistic expression.

Sometimes artistic licence is also used in order to use older works, where the language may have become outdated and unnecessary and thus need an update in order to be permissible on stage. Likewise many art pieces are easily replicated due to modern technology, resulting on certain spins or former masterpieces.

There are also several arts that do not involve either artistic expression or licensing, instead choosing to illegally replicate praised works in order to profit from another's work.

Likewise, a director may have his actions be considered artistic expression, however an actor or actress that deciders to "ad lib", changing their planned lines or coming up with dialogue on the spot may be considered to be using artistic licencing.


Many times the act of artistic expression may accidentally intersect with artistic licence, previously examined words affecting the image that results. This falls under fair use and can be considered harmless, however likewise several have found that to their chagrin and detriment previously created works have affected their finalized vision too much, resulting in an accidental forgery. In such cases the work in question must be carefully examined, lest it break fair use laws, resulting in prosecution.

Prosecution and condemnation are always fears to consider when using artistic licensing, as an already established work may have an already established fan base, causing confusion and outrage should the newly created piece fail to meet these expectations.

Many fan bases, however, will be softer on newer works as a continuation of older works, and it is for this reason that many artists choose to assume an older artist's playground instead of creating their own.

Essentially artistic expression requires imagination and expressing said imagination, resulting in a brand new piece of work, however artistic licence uses previously created works and personal expression in order to edit or adapt that work in order to suit the artists needs.

Both frequently cross, however neither are the same, much like many pieces of art.


In order to best utilize artistic expression it is always wise to examine older works and take encouragement and inspiration from them, however the finished result of such inspired works do not have to be considered a work of artistic licence; many times an artist may have trouble deciding on a colour scheme and so decide to take the example of an older work to heart.

As difficult as it may sometimes be to differentiate between a finished piece as either artistic expression or licence it is far simpler to contribute many examples of artistic licence to a finished piece of artistic expression.

This is because many facets go into a piece of art, particularly a drawn piece; coloring, shading, backgrounds, primary characters, formats, and this doesn't include a continued piece by the same artist.

Prequels and sequels may be conceived as an artistic expression of the artist in order to continue or flesh out the original piece, adding a unique flavor to it that can only be found by increasing their efforts.

Overall many times a piece may have several other artist's influences on it, using the current artist's imagination and efforts in order to form a cohesive whole or narrative, telling a story or showing the new artist's particular talents or perception in order to conceive of the new piece.

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