Point/Counterpoint: Appropriation.

Photo: Doug Rickard #40.607983, Jersey City, NJ (2007), 2011.  

PRO Appropriation:

by John Hutt


Taking images in photography and using them in a new purpose is a valid form of artistic impression. The pop artists can be defined by their superficiality, their repetition and their appropriation of other peoples work. The argument that many used to declare Pop Art invalid was that the artists were simply using other peoples work, not doing anything original. There is certainly some truth to the idea that Pop Art is lacking in substance, but the movement makes it's point very clear. The point being that there is no point to make new or artistic images because all we are surrounded by is commercial garbage.


Now we live in an age, a few short years after the Pop Artists became obsolete, where we are photographed many times over. We have our picture taken by CCTV, we are watched by Google from cars and satellites. We take pictures of ourselves and put them on the internet. The photograph has become ubiquitous to the 21st century. An artist using the millions of available images and putting them into a new context forces the viewer to consider the nature of photography, art and privacy. Like all good art appropriate images asks questions.


The question is: when does one stop becoming an artist and start becoming a curator or a collector? There is, of course, a line of degrees that this can happen in. Taking a picture found on the street and putting it in a gallery because it shows a stranger who has disregarded the picture for a reason we can only guess at would be part of an art exhibition. Taking that same photograph to a museum to be filed with “photographs found on the street” in a drawer would be collecting. Bring the collector to the museum to see the picture and you are curating.


The solution is not as cut and dry as that. The line between artist and curator is blurring. Instillation shows and exhibitions showcasing the works of dozens of artists arranged in a way that suits the curators narrative are becoming an art. It is the control of the message that defines a work.


A vital part of the process is the deconstruction of the existing work's intentions, taking apart the image or the idea that it represents; putting new ideas on to the image or altering the image to suit the artists needs.


The more of the artist's self that they put into the project the more it has to be considered a valid work. One can declare anything art on some level. If the purpose of art is, as Warhol and Wilde said, to have no purpose – then certainly the appropriation and display of someone else's images does that twice over.  To recycle old ideas and old art creates new works.


Photography lends itself to this method brilliantly. Only in photography could you look at a pictures and use it for your own devices so readily. The giant collages made out of a million photographs, that takes time effort and skill – artistic needs. If the image was art before it was appropriated, how does the act of appropriating it make it less than that?


All art is at once surface and symbol, and taking an image out from it's original setting gives it new symbolism and a new set of aesthetics.


CON Appropriation:

by Justin McCallum


Cahiers du cinéma had it right. A mid-century French art magazine, Cahiers is credited with developing the auteur theory of film criticism.


The concept of an auteur, the french term for author, dictates that directors have a unique style or vision that runs as a current throughout their work. It granted them greater respect and ownership over their work in the 1960’s and onward, just as attributing an artists name to their work in the Renaissance endowed visionary names like Michelangelo and Bernini with the clout they carry.


For years, artists have garnered fame and accolades for the production of their work - although this institution is now it is threatened by a development among so-called “photographers.”


The new trend of “appropriating” images is not photography, it is not art itself. At best, it is curation. At worst, it is theft.


More and more artists are creating projects in which they crowdsource images for a larger piece or republish content from other sources. While it was once novel with artists  such as Chuck Close, now there are even services to create a mosaic out of smaller images for cheap all across the Internet.


There are some exceptions, like Doug Rickard of American Photo X and Issue 7 Vol. 2 who browses Google Street View for surprisingly well composed stock photographs. However, Rickard’s work is only photographic in the same sense a gallery owner’s might be - he does not have ownership over the images other than how they are presented in his gallery.


But it is not original. Art can often use other pieces as inspiration, incorporating aspects of pop-culture as social commentary or even placing newspaper clippings in the work to underscore a certain point. However the generation of art is inherently creative and new.


The genre of pop art generated from the appropriation of common cultural symbols and norms that were ubiquitous that were transformed into a new expression. Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s Soup Can may have been a literal painting of the object as it appears, but by at least changing the medium and applying stylistic differentiations he gained ownership of the image generated. He did not copy-paste an object into existence - Warhol made a cultural re-mix of this old idea, bringing life to an old idea.


Not all attempts to re-appropriate work are as successful as Warhol’s though. Somerville, Massachusetts's Museum of Bad Art is littered with amateurs attempting to incorporate or re-do masterpieces in their work. An all time low is the anonymous painting “The Better to See you with, My Dear,” which holds all the lunacy of Picasso with none of the skill.


That is not to say that all times reinventions are bad. DJ’s are made famous from their mash-ups, every movie is a sequel or based on a book, and Cher has had more comeback tours than you or I have phalanges.


Recycling can be great. Sorting tin cans, cardboard and plastic bottles into their containers to save resources and the environment is one of the greatest advents in the last century. However, recycling images is not so godly a task. It is lazy and disrespectful, and the curation of images should be left for the curators.


Emerging artist interviews: Fred Cray