Appropriation (art)  

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"In the US, the artist Richard Prince is well known for appropriating photographs or other images (including Instagram feeds in his ..."--Art and Copyright (2001) by Simon Stokes

Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe (1887) by Eugène Bataille
Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe (1887) by Eugène Bataille

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Appropriation is a fundamental aspect in the history of the arts (literary, visual, musical). Appropriation can be understood as "the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work." (Tate)

In the visual arts, to appropriate means to properly adopt, borrow, recycle or sample aspects (or the entire form) of man-made visual culture. Strategies include "re-vision, re-evaluation, variation, version, interpretation, imitation, proximation, supplement, increment, improvisation, prequel... pastiche, paraphrase, parody, homage, mimicry, shan-zhai, echo, allusion, intertextuality and karaoke." (Michalis Pichler) The term appropriation refers to the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work (as in 'the artist uses appropriation') or refers to the new work itself (as in 'this is a piece of appropriation art'). Appropriation practice involves the 'appropriation' of ideas, symbols, artefacts, image, sound, objects, forms or styles from other cultures, from art history, from popular culture or other aspects of man made visual or non visual culture. Inherent in our understanding of appropriation is the concept that the new work recontextualizes whatever it borrows to create the new work. In most cases the original 'thing' remains accessible as the original, without change.

Anthropologists have studied the process of cultural appropriation, or cultural borrowing (which includes art and urbanism), as part of cultural change and contact between different cultures.

The terms of appropriation and variation on a theme are sometimes used interchangeably.



Aspects of appropriation appear in nearly all areas of visual art history if one considers the basic act of making art as the borrowing of images or concepts from the surrounding world and re-interpreting them into artwork. For example, some might classify Leonardo da Vinci as an appropriation artist, because he used recombinant methods of appropriation, borrowing from sources as diverse as biology, mathematics, engineering and art, and then synthesizing them into inventions and artworks.

Some art historians regard Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque as the first to appropriate items from a non-art context into their work. In 1912, Picasso pasted a piece of oil cloth onto the canvas. Subsequent compositions, like Guitar, Newspaper, Glass and Bottle (1913) in which Picasso used newspaper clippings to create forms, became categorized as synthetic cubism. The two artists incorporated aspects of the "real world" into their canvases, opening up discussion of signification and artistic representation.

Five years later, in 1917, Marcel Duchamp introduced the idea of the readymade. That year he entered Fountain into the American Society of Independent Artists exhibition. The work consisted of a urinal, lying on its side atop a pedestal with the signature "R. Mutt". The urinal appeared neither original nor rare, Duchamp's "creativity" as an artist lies in the gesture of selecting the urinal as an art piece and displaying it in an artistic context. Duchamp also went so far as to use existing art in his work, appropriating an apparent copy of the Mona Lisa into his piece, L.H.O.O.Q.. Recent speculation regarding Duchamp's appropriated urinal claimed that the urinal was "non-standard" and "non-functional," and that Duchamp "allegedly custom-designed it along with his other supposed readymades," however, this has never been substantiated.

The Dada movement (including Duchamp as an associate) continued with the appropriation of everyday objects, but their appropriation did not attempt to elevate the "low" to "high" art status, rather it produced art in which chance and randomness formed the basis of creation. Dada artists included Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Jean Arp, Hans Richter, Richard Huelsenbeck, Andre Breton, Tristan Tzara, and Francis Picabia. A reaction to oppressive intellectual rigidity in both art and everyday society, Dada works featured deliberate irrationality and the rejection of the prevailing standards of art. Kurt Schwitters, who produced art at the same time as the Dadaists, shows a similar sense of the bizarre in his "merz" works. He constructed these from found objects, and they took the form of large constructions that later generations would call installations.

The Surrealists, coming after the Dada movement, also incorporated the use of "found" objects such as Méret Oppenheim's Object (Luncheon in Fur) (1936). These objects took on new meaning when combined with other unlikely and unsettling objects.

In the 1950s Robert Rauschenberg used what he dubbed "combines", literally combining readymade objects such as tires or beds, painting, silk-screens, collage, and photography. Similarly, Jasper Johns, working at the same time as Rauschenberg, incorporated found objects into his work. Johns also appropriated symbolic images such as the American flag or the "target" symbol into his work.

The Fluxus art movement also utilised appropriation: its members blended different artistic disciplines including visual art, music, and literature. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s they staged "action" events, engaged in politics and public speaking, and produced sculptural works featuring unconventional materials. The group even appropriated the postal system in developing mail art. The performances sought to elevate the banal by appropriating it as "art" and dissembling the high culture of serious music.

Along with artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol appropriated images from commercial art and popular culture as well as the techniques of these industries. Often called "pop artists", they saw mass popular culture as the main vernacular culture, shared by all irrespective of education. These artists fully engaged with the ephemera produced from this mass-produced culture, embracing expendability and distancing themselves from the evidence of an artist's hand.

The term appropriation art came into common use in the 1980s with artists such as Sherrie Levine, who addressed the act of appropriating itself as a theme in art. Levine often quotes entire works into her own, for example photographing photographs of Walker Evans. Challenging ideas of originality, drawing attention to relations between power, gender and creativity, consumerism and commodity value, the social sources and uses of art, Levine plays with the theme of "almost same".

During the 1970s and 1980s Richard Prince re-photographed advertisements such as for Marlboro cigarettes or photo-journalism shots. Prince's work spoke to issues of materialism and the idea of spectacle over lived experience.

Appropriation artists may comment on more than just commercial or "low" culture. Joseph Kosuth appropriated images to engage with philosophy and epistemological theory. Other artists working during this time with appropriation included Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, and Malcolm Morley.

In the 1990s artists continued to produce appropriation art, using it as a medium to address theories and social issues, rather than focussing on the works themselves. Damian Loeb used film and cinema to comment on themes of simulacrum and reality. Other high-profile artists working at this time included Christian Marclay, Deborah Kass and Damien Hirst.

Artists working today continue to incorporate non-art elements and to quote from existing art. For example, Cory Arcangel incorporates aspects of cultural nostalgia through re-working vintage video games and computer software. Other contemporary appropriation artists include the Chapman brothers, Benjamin Edwards, Joy Garnett, Nikki S. Lee, Paul Pfeiffer, Pierre Huyghe and Rico Gatson.

Appropriation art and copyrights

The nature of appropriation art, the borrowing of elements for new work, brings up a number of contentious copyright issues. One debate addresses the extent to which appropriation art has sufficient originality. In the case of appropriation the appropriating artist copies the expressive form (as opposed to merely the idea) of the original work. A number of case-law examples have emerged that investigate the division between transformation of a work and simple derivation of a work.

Andy Warhol faced a series of law-suits from photographers whose work he appropriated and silk-screened. Patricia Caulfield, one such photographer, had taken a picture of flowers for a photography demonstration for a photography magazine. Warhol had covered the walls of Leo Castelli's New York gallery in 1964 with the silk-screened reproductions of Caulfield's photograph. After seeing a poster of his work in a bookstore, Caulfield claimed ownership of the image and while Warhol was the author of the successful silk screens, he settled out of court, giving Caulfield a royalty for future use of the image as well as two of the paintings.

Jeff Koons has also confronted issues of copyright due to his appropriation work (see Rogers v. Koons). Photographer Art Rogers brought suit against Koons for copyright infringement in 1989. Koons work, String of Puppies sculpturally reproduced Rogers' black and white photograph that had appeared on an airport greeting card that Koons had bought. Though he claimed fair use and parody in his defense, Koons lost the case — partially due to the tremendous success he had as an artist. The parody argument also failed, as the appeals court drew a distinction between creating a parody of modern society in general and a parody directed at a specific work, finding parody of a specific work, especially of a very obscure one, too weak to justify the fair use of the original.

In October 2006, Koons won one for "fair use." For a seven-painting commission for the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, Koons drew on part of a photograph taken by Andrea Blanch titled Silk Sandals by Gucci and published in the August 2000 issue of Allure magazine to illustrate an article on metallic makeup. Koons took the image of the legs and diamond sandals from that photo (omitting other background details) and used it in his painting Niagara, which also includes three other pairs of women’s legs dangling surreally over a landscape of pies and cakes.

In his court filing, Koons' lawyer, John Koegel, said that Niagara is "an entirely new artistic work... that comments on and celebrates society's appetites and indulgences, as reflected in and encouraged by a ubiquitous barrage of advertising and promotional images of food, entertainment, fashion and beauty."

In his decision, Judge Louis L. Stanton of U.S. District Court found that Niagara was indeed a "transformative use" of Blanch's photograph. "The painting's use does not 'supersede' or duplicate the objective of the original," the judge wrote, "but uses it as raw material in a novel way to create new information, new esthetics and new insights. Such use, whether successful or not artistically, is transformative."

The detail of Blanch's photograph used by Koons, it seems, is only marginally copyrightable. Blanch has no right to the appearance of the Gucci sandals, "perhaps the most striking element of the photograph," the judge wrote. And without the sandals, only a representation of a women's legs remains -- and that is "not sufficiently original to deserve much copyright protection."

Blanch, a 20-year veteran of the photo world -- she started out as an assistant for Richard Avedon, and in 1998 published Italian Men: Love & Sex, a book of interviews and photographs.The battle is not over yet -- Blanch has filed an appeal. So far, her costs have been minimal; her lawyer has taken the case on a contingency basis. But if she loses, she may have to pay the defendants’ costs, and since she has sued Deutsche Bank and the Guggenheim along with Koons -- she claims that the two institutions which commissioned the work share responsibility for the alleged copyright violation -- the eventual bill could be rather large.

In 2000, Damien Hirst's sculpture Hymn (which Charles Saatchi had bought for a reported £1m) was exhibited in Ant Noises in the Saatchi Gallery. Hirst was sued for breach of copyright over this sculpture, which was a 20ft six ton enlargement of his son Connor's 14" Young Scientist Anatomy Set designed by Norman Emms, 10,000 of which are sold a year by Hull-based toy manufacturer Humbrol for £14.99 each. Hirst paid an undisclosed sum to two charities, Children Nationwide and the Toy Trust in an out-of-court settlement. The charitable donation was less than Emms had hoped for. Hirst sold three more copies of his sculpture for similar amounts to the first.

In the field of the Internet and videogames, Miltos Manetas appropriates imagery and animations to create his own works.

Appropriation artists

Artists who have appropriated, sampled or borrowed elements of pre-existing work for use in new work:

List of topics in art appropriation

By field

Appropriation (music)ContrafactCover versionInterpolation (music)List of musical medleysMashup (music)Musical plagiarismMusical quotationParody musicPasticcioPlunderphonicsPotpourri (music)DJ mixQuodlibetRemixSampling (music)Sound collageTrope (music)Variation (music)

Literature, Theatre

Assemblage (composition)Cut-up techniqueHack (comedy)Joke thieveryPasticheTrope (literature)Found poetryVerbatim theatre

Painting, Comics, Photography

CollageSwipe (comics)Comic strip switcherooPhotographic mosaicCombine painting

Cinema, TV, videos

Mashup (video)Re-cut trailerTV formatFound footageRemakeParody film

Other arts

Standard, blocks and forms

Jazz standardStock characterPlot deviceDramatic structureFormula fictionMonomythArchetype

General concepts

Imitation (art)PlagiarismRepriseDétournement• Adaptation (Film adaptation, Theatrical adaptation, Literary adaptation)•Source criticism in the artsParodyQuotationHomageCitationAllusionDerivative workBricolageAssemblage (art)Found art

Related artistic concepts

OriginalityArtistic inspirationAfflatusGenius (literature)GenreGenre studiesParody advertisementIn-jokeTribute actFan fictionSimulacrumIntertextualityArchetypal literary criticismReadymades of Marcel DuchampAnti-artPop artAesthetic interpretation

Epoch-marking works

L.H.O.O.Q. (1919)• Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (1939)


MimesisDionysian imitatioDe Copia RerumRomantic movementModernist movementPostmodern movement

Related non artistic concepts

Cultural appropriationAppropriation (sociology)Articulation (sociology)Trope (linguistics)Academic dishonestyAuthorshipGenius

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Appropriation (art)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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