Posted tagged ‘warhol’

Where Does Appropriation Start?

October 10, 2008

Chris Tyrell writes some useful and thought provoking articles in the Visual Arts Newsletter published by Opus Framing & Art Supplies.  This month he tackled the question of appropriation and it struck a chord with me, especially since I have been thinking a lot about original creative ideas.

As I said before, there are so many ideas out in the world already that it is terribly hard to have a pure, original thought these days. So where does one draw the line between copying someone else’s work as a whole and using some parts of it to merge with other parts to create something new? Could we not say that Andy Warhol was appropriating the Campbell’s Soup image when he made screenprints of the cans in 1968? ( As an aside, it is interesting to note that I know the name Andy Warhol, but I do not know the name of the person who first designed the label for Campbell’s Soup.) 

Chris Tyrell in his article uses the example of non-native carvers who carve using the language of the Kwakiutl style. They were taught by a First Nations artist. Their work was not directly copied, but it was very similar. I agree with Mr. Tyrell who said these carvings should not be sold or exhibited. This is just like how I was encouraged in art school to copy the ‘Masters’ as a tool for learning, but I would never sell or exhibit my copy of a Picasso. Yet there are artists who show their copies of historical art, such as Lucy Hogg’s show at the Vancouver Art Gallery many years ago. I quite liked her paintings. But how close to appropriation are her interpretations of famous paintings? How far does one have to change the original, before their new work can be seen as original?

Then there is the whole debate over cultural appropriation? I have been witness to many heated discussions about non-natives using First Nations imagery. Is it okay that the French Impressionists looked to Japanese prints for inspiration? Or Picasso looked to African masks? Modern art would look a lot different if we never had those mergings of cultures. Emily Carr’s copies of First Nation designs are displayed in the Vancouver Art Gallery on a regular basis. Her paintings I believe are quite original in style, but what about her ceramic pieces that directly copy First Nation designs? Is this appropriation? They are in a gallery because the artist is now famous. But what if I were to produce something similar?

So many questions pop into my head about appropriation. I have barely touched on it in these few paragraphs. This will be an ongoing issue for me to address in my own art as I try to create something new, but also reference the work of others, because I can’t help but be inspired by them.