Tag Archives: copy

Repeatable Unrepeatable

What if everyone did that? What if everyone painted like Picasso or Pollock? What if everyone painted like Jenny Holtzer or photographed like Bill Henson? What if everyone made readymades like Duchamp? What if everyone spray-painted on walls in the city? Repeatability, reproducibility of results, is an important issue for science and ethics but what about art?

The history of art, unlike the history of science, is a cumulative narrative, where every work of art adds to what has come before. There have never been revolutions in art as there are in science; there has been nothing equivalent to the Copernican revolution (although Duchamp’s contribution might be the equivalent of quantum physics). The mistake was made when modern artists started to use the language of science in the first place in talking about ‘experiments’. Contemporary artists have avoided this word, using the more professional word ‘practice’.

There are different kinds of repeatability in the visual arts to the performing arts. The American choreographer, Merce Cunningham when on tour in India asked by Indian academic: “Do Americans like your kind of dance?” And after some confusion the question was clarified…for after dinner dancing?” Merce Cunningham’s choreography is repeatable for a trained dancer but not repeatable in a popular fashion. Democratic repeatability, that is repeatable by ordinary people, is different to repeatable by a trained elite.

Although the original is identical to the cliché except for its position in the sequence. Artistic creativity is held to be idiosyncratic, in the sense that it is isolated to an individual. This has helped sustain the idea and value of an artist’s individual signature style that grew from 17th Century artists, when artists first started to market their own work rather than rely on commissions.

Currently in the visual arts the results are regarded as irreproducible. Unlike in ethics or science the same events do not create the same results. The great results of visual art are not universalizable and can never be replicated. If someone else made portraits like Warhol they would be simply a derivative initiator (you can now get a Warhol effect on canvas at most commercial photo printers).

Obviously it has not always been this way; originally students would learn by imitating their master to the point of exactly reproduction. In the past if you could paint or sculpt like an established master then you did and would be praised for it. Following previous great art as an example is a very different issue for modern and contemporary visual art. We need to ask the question why are we not intended to follow the example of great contemporary artists? What part of their art is repeatable? Should we use great modern art as examples in art education? What if everyone behaved like Damien Hirst?


Street Art Forgeries & Plagiarism

Street art involves a lot of appropriation (stealing) other people’s images from the mass media, art and elsewhere. Appropriation is part of the cut and paste, Dada to hip-hop, lineage of which street art is a part. A sample, appropriated from some other work of art or design, can be used creatively to create new and original works. (I could expand on the history of sampling in music, art and literature but this is not the point.) Appropriation, sampling, homage, tribute, plagiarism, copy, whatever you want to call it, are all the various degrees of lack of authenticity and originality. And this leaves the door wide open for many kinds of abuses.

Forged Banksy

Not a real Banksy

I saw a fake Banksy gangster rat on the street of Brisbane, I’m pretty sure that Banksy never went to Brisbane but if he did this would have faded in the sun by now. It has been copied from a photograph of a Banksy gangster rat but it has left out details on the ghettoblaster. This fake Banksy is different from the forgeries on sale in auction houses or on Ebay. (In April 2007 auction house Christies withdrew two alleged Banksy paintings from sale. And The Art Newspaper reported (1/10/07) that unauthorized Banksy prints with forged signatures are for sale on Ebay.) Legally it is hard to actually be a forgery when you are free and anonymously created on the street as no claims are being made about the authenticity and nobody is suffering any financial loss as a result of the deception.

Street art is frequently not just copying or sampling but plagiarizing with copies of copies of copies. (See my review of Swifty’s show and see his reply in the comments). I do not want to see another Warhol imitation or any famous high contrast black and white image reproduced in stencil-art. Copying Warhol is just repetitive and it does not make the copyist another Warhol. On a full colour sticker by Mask is a reproduction of Roy Lichtenstein’s painting of an artist and his girlfriend saying, “Oh Brad, soon all the galleries will be clamouring for your art”, only “Brad” has been replaced by “Mask”. This sucks all of irony out of Lichtenstein’s appropriation of the original comic frame. A copy of art will not alone make a work art.

Mask sticker

Mask sticker

There are many reasons for copying: for learning and practicing, for ironic or satirical parody, for all kinds of reasons – but copying for it’s own sake is not one of them – it is just plagiarism.


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