Hey CA! I've had this thought bouncing around in my head for the past week or so after starting to do old master studies.
Is it valid to study contemporary masters in the same way you would copy a Rembrandt or Velázquez? It seems like it might be dangerous because your work can end up looking like the living artist's and you deal with orginality and pop culture/trend issues but would it be valid to do copies of Odd Nerdrum's paintings or Marko D's character designs to absorb some of their process and knowledge? Is there an unwritten time span that has to pass in order to make it okay to do master copies of an artist in history? I was just curious what you all think?
Well I wouldn't worry about it as you would develop your own style over time, master studies are basically practice for beginners--though experienced artists sometimes continue to benefit from them as well... Nevertheless, most creative people I observed learn through imitating others first, and as they grasp the basics they form their own style because it's really difficult to imitate somebody else's work, and your own artistic vision will begin to shape anyway.
I had one teacher who recommended studying from both the traditional masters and whatever masters you find accessible & exciting. His logic was that although they're the best, sometimes it's hard for us to relate to the old masters and understand exactly what they were doing and why it was so great. Studying the masters who excite us more at least gets us drawing. His logic was also that most likely studying these masters would eventually get us to understand that they were studying the old masters and then have some better idea of what they were doing. Eventually we realize that if we want to draw like so-and-so, we don't need to study just so-and-so but also all the people so-and-so studied.
Copy from the best, the very best. Whether this means a contemporary master or an old one is irrelevant. The thing to bear in mind though, is that the old masters have stood the test of time, whereas the modern master has not been yet been strain tested in this way.