January 26, 2015 Repository 168 | Copyright, Appropriation, Stealing and Radical Democracy Posted In: art practice, bon mots, contemporary art, education, perspective

After Francis Bacon's Study of Velázquez's

After Francis Bacon’s Study of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, from the coloring book “In a True Democracy the Many are Obligated to the Few”

It’s been over a year and a half that I have tried to find a willing bookstore for my coloring book – a swan song to a book I wrote and could not afford the copyright, a red flag to artists to stop working in isolation, an homage to the shoulders of giants on which we stand. While a handful have said the book was too special and to try museum bookstores, the majority of artist friendly, curious book shops did not accept the book. As far as the museum bookstores – I tried a few, and that was like trying to sell wheatgrass to McDonalds. Not going to happen. As far as the small shops – I have no idea. They didn’t take the leap to understanding their audience’s potential  appreciation of it. Thankfully it’s available on the internet mall AKA Amazon.

So what is it about the book that puts people on edge? They are hand drawings by me of other peoples’ work. They are 153 outlines, shadows and shells of someone else’s thinking. They are meant to be an homage, a springboard and an imperative for others to consider seriously where they belong in this extended art family. And they are always labeled after the artist, not me. The first response from most people is “are there copyright issues?”. Did they ask this to Andy Warhol when he recreated Brillo boxes and placed them in a gallery? Or other people’s press images, repeatedly? Did people ask Picasso when he repainted “Las Meninias” by Velázquez if he had considered the copyright issues? Or Francis Bacon’s devilish and brilliant repainting of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X? No. Not once. Not ever. Below is a long and lovely list of artists appropriating art on no uncertain terms (includes Van Gogh and Shepard Fairey).

A couple of years ago I took a course at a local art college, a simple course in the printmaking department. After a couple weeks of classes I asked if the teacher would be sharing images of artists works so that we could understand the breadth and history of this printmaking medium. His response was an emphatic “no”, he did not show other artists images because he did not want students to copy them. In other words if you are studying to be a chef, you are never allowed to read recipes or eat anyone else’s cuisine for fear that you may be influenced by said chef. AND the art teacher was likely paid a hefty salary, and his students were paying an unfortunate sum (40k a year plus), to be served slop. Another example where the arts fall down.

Last week the blue chip artist Luc Tuymans was “convicted” of plagiarism by the Belgian court system because he used a photograph of a politician to make a painting. Using a photograph, found, official or homemade, to make a painting is old hat. And the litigious nature is historically US. Now it’s global, and now Tuymans faces a $300K Euro fine if he does it again. To return to the cooking analogy, that would be akin to borrowing a recipe from Ina Garten/Julia Childs/Bobby Flay and adding your own spin to it and being called out for copyright infringement. This wasn’t a photo of a photo, it was a painting of a photo – entirely different.

In sum I would like to quote Andy Warhol, the grandfather of radical democracy, who said:

“art is what you can get away with.”

And away we go.



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