Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stealing Is Stealing . . . Is Not Stealing

Last week, my high school teacher daughter commented about her students copying manga drawings from the Internet and signing their own names. She tried to explain that there was an artist who did the original and it was not them. They said "It's free on the Internet. And besides, I have some good ideas, but I can't draw them." She told them they were stealing the other artist's work. They disagreed. She explained that is was like taking someone else's writing for a paper. They said, "It's not stealing. Our English teacher said it's plagiarism."

So this week, the New York Times discussed the photographs in the Richard Prince exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. They explored the feelings of the original photographers whose work was rephotographed and enlarged to ginormous sizes. They quoted Prince who said " . . . he was trying to get at something he could not get at by creating his own images." (My comment, "Well, duh!") And in an email he said, “I never associated advertisements with having an author.” My friend David R. Becker might disagree as did Jim Kranz whose original Marlboro photos are now being copied, shown and sold by Prince. Kranz said “I just want some recognition, and I want some understanding.” The Times talked of fair use and called it "appropriation." The full NYTimes article is here.

This question of copying someone else's work has often come up in my painting classes; I always discourage it. Suppose it's mine they want to copy and hang on their walls with their own signatures?!! And they would probably tell me I should be flattered. I always encourage study, practice and originality, but I may an old fossil in this. Copying-to-learn comes down as a time honored tradition; yet few would sign the copy as if it were their own. Copying someone's work from their website or copying their website; each comes with it's own set of ethical questions. Copying another artist's work, then being honored with a museum show for your copies? Oh, my!

So stealing is stealing . . . is not stealing.

It's plagiarism . . . or . . . appropriation.

I gotta think about this.



CMC said...

I don't keep up with all the big shows...but I can't believe that downright copying someone else's work, whether photography or painting is only "appropriation". To learn, a painter could just write copy of xyz on the back. I don't see why anyone would want to re-photograph something this way.

BUT, having said that, I do cut up images of all kinds when I collage. Nothing would be a copy of anyone else's work and usually is unidentifiable by anyone or is a generic type image anyone could do. This is all combined into a "whole new art work" that bears no resemblance to the original parts........THIS is what I can appropriation.

Annette Bush said...

Cheryl, there are many 'I can't believe' moments in the world of art. Sometimes it's just an innovative idea; other times it's a scam. The rephotographing on Prince's part had nothing to do with 'learning.' And the students truly did not understand the meaning of plagiarism.

Most of us use some 'appropriation' -- an idea, a composition or a bit of an image. The question is when is it too much of a good thing? Interesting world we live in, huh?

Mary Richmond said...

Interesting thoughts on all sides. I tend to be a purist on this--stealing is stealing, copying is copying and appropriation is appropriation....Artists throughout time have copied one another and borrowed ideas and changed things and rearranged things to make their own art. There is, after all, really not much new under the sun...or is there? It is interesting that so many young people think nothing of taking other people's work without permission and using it as their own. The number of people who have come onto my blog to copy an essay on pet peeaves is amazing! I even wrote a second essay on the pet peeve I had about them doing so since and essay on one's pet peeves should be such a natural and that essay has been lifted as well. For those of us who try to express our own responses and views all this plagiarism is a little alarming and discouraging. And, yes, I use other people's images in collages and I'm sure some of my writing and thinking reflects what I have heard expressed elsewhere so where do we draw the line???

Annette Bush said...

I think use of other people's work is SUCH a fine line that it has become almost acceptable to many. I often see artists making copies of other work with a few changes to "make it better" and writers who appropriate whole blog columns with little acknowledgment of the author. Easy access on the Internet and a certain amount of anonymity seems to have changed our thinking.

Of course, we are all influenced by what we see, read and hear, but it seems to me that, in the new work, there should be some assimilation of the ideas or images which reflect some personal thought -- beyond saying, "He did exactly what I wanted to do, so I'll just use his . . . ."