This is my essay I wrote I where I set the question and initiated my own research behind it. I choose tis subject as it addresses issues surrounding my work.
Issues of authorship and originality in relation to the use of appropriation in contemporary art.
Appropriation artist’s use of other artist’s works and sources brings up issues and questions surrounding the notions of authorship and originality. It has been said that appropriation artist’s authorship relation to their work appears compromised from the very start due to the inclusion of other people’s works. Some appropriation artists themselves have also declared that there is no such thing as originality, particularly traditional notions of originality in an age of technical innovation and easy reproduction.
Appropriation is a practice that goes back far in history for different purposes. Albrecht Durer originally set the paradigm for what a Rhinoceros looked like for people in Europe who had never seen one before. He made a drawing of a Rhinoceros from vague sketches and a description; this drawing became the set image for rhinoceroses in his work and other artist’s works that wanted to include a rhinoceros. However with these artist’s works there didn’t appear to be a problem of authorship and originality with their inclusion of Durer’s rhinoceros as they were just seen as using the accepted depiction of rhinoceros.
Artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the early twentieth century appropriated images from newspapers in their cubist collages. Issues of authorship with these works weren’t as apparent as more recent artists that are classified under the umbrella of appropriation artists. Authorship and originality became more of an issue as artists started to use appropriation in more extreme ways in some cases as a way to directly challenge these terms. Elaine Sturtevant took appropriation art to more extreme levels; she replicated artist’s work such as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein and Marcel Duchamp through the process they were originally created. Her works tip traditional ideas of originality and authorship on its head.
Roland Barthes (1) tells us that to impose an author on a work is to impose a limit on the work. He says ‘the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author.’ Sherrie Irvine (2005) asks “The work of the appropriation artists, which continues into the present, might well be thought to support the idea that the author is dead: in taking freely from the works of other artists, they seem to ask, with Foucault, ‘What difference does it make who is speaking?’” Through the use of appropriation the author may appear to be dead however the importance of the author seems more apparent and although the author may be challenged, it is not dead.
This is particularly evident in Sherrie Levine’s Work where she photographed Walker Evans’ photographs from an exhibition catalogue and re-presented them in an exhibition as her work. Here the author of the work becomes very important to establish, as knowing the author completely changes your understanding and reading of it. In visual terms the works of Walker Evans and the appropriated images of Evans’ photos by Sherrie Levine are the same. However they have been through different processes and were made under different intentions and contexts. Walker Evans was documenting the effects of the great depression and had to consider and work through issues and concerns, such as composition, lighting, the subject and so forth. Whereas Levine has re-photographed his photos to make a commentary on photographic reproduction, artistic originality, authorship and authenticity. “[She] wanted it understood that she was flatly questioning questioning-no, flatly undermining-those most hallowed principles of art in the modern era: originality, intention, expression” (Rimanelli, David, 1994). Levine creates a whole new concept for ‘Evans’’ photographs, they wouldn’t be considered as new works and this concept wouldn’t be apparent if the author was not known and recognized as we would just assume they were Evans’ images. So we can see here for the reader (audience) to be empowered it does make an important difference as to who is speaking.
On the other hand With Pierre Bismuth’s piece ‘Blue Monk in Progress’ the issue of the author comes across in a different way. He used a Yamaha Disclavier piano that can record a player’s performance and then recite it back. Pierre Bismuth used this to record him learning to play Thelonious Monk’s piano piece ‘Blue Monk’. He then had this performance written as musical notation with all the errors, which he then got a professional pianist to play on the Disclavier piano. The pianist played the piece according to the musical score like the errors of Bismuth were intentional and were meant to be in the piece. The final work that was exhibited was of the Disclavier playing back what the pianist had played on it.
In this piece of work the authorship can be interpreted in different ways. Is Bismuth the author as he was the one who’s idea it was to do this piece of work and organize it? Is Thelonious Monk the author, as his piece ‘Blue Monk’ is a key part and center of the work? Is the Pianist the author as it is their recording recital that is played? Is the Disclavier piano the author, as it is the disclavier that when it comes down to it, when the work is exhibited, that actually plays the piece? Or is it a combination of all of them? This piece may be seen to have different authors, that may be disputed but establishing the author and knowing who is speaking here may not be so important compared to Sherrie Levines work. Knowing the process of the work and leaving it to the audience to decipher and interpret is more interesting.
As we can see with Bismuth’s work there is some debate as to who actually is the author when an artist’s work consists of other peoples work. Normally artists are held responsible for every aspect and decision made within their work. However when an artist appropriates someone else’s artwork they are not responsible for every feature, as someone else has created them through their decisions. This questions the work’s author and the originality of the new work, as it does not wholly originate with the ‘new’ artist. Although large parts of appropriations works may not originally be features created by the appropriation artist it doesn’t mean necessarily that they are not the authors of the new work or that it is not original.
Elaine Sturtevant makes a point about her work and the issue of copying, “There’s a big difference in repeating in the sense of Deleuze, and copying. Firstly, a copy must be absolutely of the same intention as the original, whereas my work deals with an interior movement, and repetition as difference.” (OBRIST, HANS ULRICH, 2009.) This can be applied to other appropriation artists works to when arguing who is the author. The different processes, intention, context and transformation of the appropriated work establish the work as something substantially different from the original and so asserts the authorship of the creator of the appropriated work. This shows how Sherrie Levine is the author of her work, as even though her work of appropriated images by Walker Evans are visually the same as Walker Evans’ originals, Levine is the author of her work as she created the work with new intentions and concepts that’s originate with her. Further more society has accepted such appropriation artists as the author of their work and they have been recognized and have received awards as successful artists. Elizabeth Price recently won the 2012 Turner Prize for her piece ‘The Woolworths choir of 1979’ which was made up of appropriated archival footage edited into the award winning piece. Also many appropriation artists have had exhibitions and have their work held at prestigious institutions, which wouldn’t have happened if the artist weren’t taken seriously as the authors of their work.
Appropriation may ‘copy’ other artist’s work but it isn’t forgery. John Myatt painted copies by famous painters such as Monet and originally sold them as ‘genuine fakes’. However with the help of John Drewe he realised he could sell them as the genuine article for a lot more money. He created over 200 fakes that were sold but they were both found out, were convicted and spent time in prison. Myatt now has returned to selling his paintings as genuine fakes. Here we can see that forgery differs from appropriation as the forger tries to pass their work off as the original work for financial gain, not artistic purposes.
Even though appropriation isn’t forgery there are still cases where the law gets involved where copyright is concerned. There is a fair use act for the use of other people’s copyrighted work. If a work is deemed transformative it is not seem to be in breech of copyright, however what is considered as transformative is disputable. Jeff Koons was sued for his use of Art Rogers’ photo of a man and woman holding some puppies called ‘Puppies’. Koons instructed Italian artisans to make a 3d sculptural replication of the image entitled ‘String of Puppies’. “Koons claimed that artistic freedom would be abrogated if artists could not make parodies or create work that somehow showed the influence of other artists.” (Grant, Daniel, 2012) The court ruled against Koons deeming that the piece didn’t parody the original work. Even though this piece of work may have not parodied the original work it was transformative and original, seen as the medium was changed and it was made into a 3d work which didn’t look exactly the same as the photo and would have been experienced in a completely different way. In the artistic world the change of medium would have been considered as transformative but the ordinary viewer has to be able to see it as transformative and that was not apparent in this case.
Some philosophers have proposed that originality be understood in relation to the properties of a work. “Frank Sibley (1985) equates originality with "novelty," and he analyzes various senses of originality in terms of the properties of the work, namely, that it "differs from anything previously existing in relevant ways."”(Van Camp, Julie C, 2007) Returning to koons’ work, his work may not have been seen transformative enough but according to this it is original as it differs from anything previously existing as his work features in a form that the photo had not existed in before, which then would have created a new experience of the work.
James Elkins focuses exclusively on properties of works in relation to others, a work is original if it has one of these senses. “First, what he calls "originary," are works "that appear to be without antecedent" (…) This seems to approximate "novelty" in the sense of being historically first, dependent on placing the work in a historical context as the first to demonstrate a certain trait. The second sense, "primacy," "refers mostly to itself," and also seems to connote novelty as a historical fact. (…) The third, "uniqueness," refers to the qualities that distinguish an object from copies” (Van Camp, Julie C, 2007)
If we take this definition or originality we can see how appropriation art can be considered as original. Taking example from Sherrie Levine’s work again we can see that her work is original, as in a historical context she was one of the first to appropriate in such an extreme way in photographing someone else’s photography and the result being visually the same as the original photographers images. Furthermore her work identifies with the third sense, as her works are distinguishable from Evan’s photos as they posses different qualities, primarily concept.
This shows that originality does still exist and here we can see that a work of art, in particular appropriation art, may not be original in the traditional sense but can be original in a new sense. All work is derivative somehow of other things but it is the new qualities that an appropriation artists adds to a work that can make it original. This also applies to them asserting their authorship on their work, as they are the creators of something new and this shows that the author can still be important to a piece of work.
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