Basharat Bashir

Appropriation in Visual Art

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Appropriation in visual arts means to use, or to borrow, adopt or rearrange pre-existing material or artwork and present it as inventive work of art. Unlike plagiarism appropriation in visual art has been widely accepted and many artists around the globe have been successfully using it to reframe existent and notable artworks. Appropriation is the concept to recontextualize whatever it borrows to create the new work. In most cases, the original “thing” remains accessible as the original, without change. The first example of appropriation can be associated with the Ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp.

Appropriation can also be defined as the ‘taking over’ real object into a new work of art, and in many cases recreating with certain changes, an existing work of art. One may be very familiar with the painting of Mona Lisa with a moustache ‘L.H.O.O.Q.’  by Marcel Duchamp. In L.H.O.O.Q. Duchamp uses a cheap postcard reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s early 16th-century painting Mona Lisa onto which Duchamp drew a moustache and beard in pencil and appended the title.The subject of the Mona Lisa which is arguably world’s most famous painting has been extensively used by artists to create satire out of it, and as early as 1887 Eugène Bataillecreated Mona Lisa smoking a pipe, published in Le Rire. It is not clear, however, if Duchamp was familiar with Sapeck’s work.

The central problem that arises within the spectrum of appropriation is the issue of originality. Appropriation which is now common practice amongst contemporary artists and there are many artists who deny the notion of ‘originality’ and they believe that appropriation gives original imagery a new meaning and a new life. The rejection of notion of originality has availed artists to come up with what one may call extreme form of appropriation.And most suiting example of such a case is the work of Sherrie Levine.

Sherrie is a well-known and cited appropriation artist. What  she does is that she photographs well-known photographic images from books and catalogues, and then she presents themas her own work. Unlike many appropriation artists who do some alteration, Sherrie just photographs pre-existing images and exhibits them without any modifications. It looks bizarre in some sense and it gets even weird when we learn that Sherrie Levine was able to copy the works of Edward Weston and Walker Evans because they did not fall under the 1976 US Copyright Act.while the photographs in question by Walker Evans can be copied and reproduced, the rephotographs by Levine are protected by copyright.

Sherrie Levine, addressed the act of appropriating as a theme in art. She Challenges the ideas of originality, and by bringing pre-existing work back into the conscious of the art world, she tries to increase our awareness of already existing imagery.  Through her work she drawsour attention to relations between power, gender, and creativity.

Apart from Sherrie there are examples of many famous artists including Vincent Van Gogh who were inspired and created copies of other artists in their own style. Vincent van Gogh made many copies of pre-existing paintings between 1887 and early 1890.He was very much inspired by Jean-François Millet and he copied not less than twenty of his works in his own style. Rather than replicate, Van Gogh sought to translate the subjects and composition through his perspective, colour, and technique and that is what most appropriation artists do.

The Dada movement extensively played with the appropriation of everyday objects and their combination in collage. Dada as the movement was aimed to denounce sanity and rationality, its works featured deliberate irrationality and the rejection of the prevailing standards of art. Alongside Duchamp Kurt Schwitters shows a similar sensibility in his “merz” works. He constructed parts of these from found objects, and they took the form of large constructions that are now called installations.

The Surrealists, coming after the Dada movement, also incorporated the use of ‘found objects’as well as Salvador Dali went on to create his Self Portrait as Mona Lisa in 1954, referencing L.H.O.O.Q. in collaboration with Philippe Halsman, incorporating his photographs of a wild-eyed Dalí showing his handlebar moustache and a handful of coins.

Contemporary artists often use appropriation to reinterpret pre-existent imagery such as French artist Zevs who reinterpreted logos of brands like Google or works by David Hockney. Many urban and street artists also use images from the popular culture such as Shepard Fairey or Banksy,who appropriated artworks by Claude Monet or Vermeer with his girl with a pierced eardrum.Canadian Cree artist Kent Monkman appropriates iconic paintings from European and North American art history and populates them with Indigenous visions of resistance.

Although appropriation art has resulted in contentious copyright issues regarding its validity under copyright law andseveral case law examples have emerged that investigate the division between transformative works and derivative works, but one must accept that concept of appropriation in art is not a sudden event. It is obvious that artists from centuries have been using appropriation in their work and it has paved way for many art reforms around the globe. Despite being an extensive form of artistic expression adopted by artists across continents the element of copying or forgery looms on it.Butnothing has been able to stop  appropriation from gaining recognition and in keeping it from contemporary art practice.

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