What Is an Artistic License?

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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2014
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Artistic license allows artists to distort facts, change rules or omit details to improve their work of art. It also is often referred to as historical license or poetic license, though it also can be called narrative license. While it is expected to be tolerated by audiences for the sake of the art, it may offend some viewers, who might be annoyed when their favorite work of art is altered by an artist to create a new piece. In general, artistic license allows artists to be creative without getting into legal trouble for distorting real life or modifying original art to create new artistic objects.

Unlike some types of licenses, no one has to apply for artistic license, because it is available to all artists. Many use it to improve their work, such as slightly changing the typical rules of grammar to make a poem or song sound better. Some artists, on the other hand, modify old works of art to develop new ones and, though it may irritate fans of the original work, it is typically legal. For example, artists may take a few images or words from other works of art and incorporate them into a new piece, even leaving out many of the details, if doing so helps them get the effect they desire.


These artist rights continue even when artistic license is taken unintentionally, perhaps because of inadequate research or mistaken beliefs. For instance, an artist may paint a picture of an historic occurrence, but some of the details may be factually inaccurate, either because the artist did not do much research or the general public held some mistaken beliefs at the time. This tends to occur not only in paintings and nonfiction books, but also in movies and television shows. In such cases, artistic license may save the artist from having to edit the work to add the correct facts, because no one can demand that he be historically accurate or else face a lawsuit.

One of the most commonly seen types of artistic license is called dramatic license, which centers on making everyday tasks more exciting to capture the attention of the audience. Many television shows and movies, in particular, make use of this form of artistic license. For example, crime dramas rarely show the paperwork required of police, or the detailed lab work required of medical examiners, because these scenes would likely bore viewers. This type of artist license is often beneficial for both the audience and the creator of the work of art, which is why it is allowed without legal repercussions.


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