Richard Prince and the complexities of appropriation
Definitely feeling both sides of the argument on this one, probably because of being half human and half consumer! The human in me says ‘we must be free to do the work that artists are here to do regardless of what that entails’ and the consumer in me says ‘yeah...but...money and recognition.’ Listening to the podcast, I was interested in the idea of transforming something through changing its context rather than substantially physically changing the original image - I think this is a valid form of transformation (but probably harder for people to accept because of materialistic habits). I also think it’s good for artists to challenge each other’s work. I suppose the real issue in this for me is how it highlights the way that creative output is processed through our societal frameworks. I’d say part of Prince’s work is to do with that and so I think it’s necessary that he gets himself pulled into the courtroom. Do we limit our relationship with art, and therefore its power, because of how society functions?
From a personal perspective I made a large piece using an image of a dress from a 1980’s magazine. I was interested in the shape and the line of the dress and was commenting on the representtion of women in media. The image was de-identified but the shape and pattern of the fabric remained. I sold the piece at an exhibition and it wasn’t until afterwards when I was reviewing photographs that I realised that the dress itself could be recognisable as a design by a well known designer. Fortunately, I haven’t ever shared the photographs and but I was startled that I didn’t realise that my appropriation of the image might be construed as breaching copyright. It’s a weird constraint to manage when the concept requires appropriation.
I do appreciate that it's a thorny issue. Like many things the abuse was hurtful and excessive (of artists material) and now the retaliation is also...
How would you feel as a writer if your words (say the paper you're most proud of) were copied verbatim without reference to you as the author? Similar hurt?
As far as I understand in the Lynn Goldsmith v Andy Warhol Foundation case Goldsmith was credited by Andy Warhol and she licensed him to create an artwork from her original photo for Vanity Fair years ago. So this case is all about a one-time agreement/payment. In which case there seems to be a more legible licensing issue here. But it doesn't seem that Prince credits or pays anyone. Just not sure what I think about that, because I actually think his work is really interesting. It does make me think and the meanings in his artworks do shift from the original. Really torn.
Credit where credit is due! Is probably my starting point on this.
I keep thinking about our human need to be ‘given credit’ and why it’s so valuable. For example, having credit attached to something is directly related to privileges of gravitas and money.
I suppose it’s all complicated by that ambiguous fact that two people viewing the same image have different perceptions depending on their role. From a psychological perspective it’s self interest then fairness that happens before the appraisal takes place.
There’s also this fascinating idea that our biases and framing of a situation fades our ethical response too so no matter how hard we try to be ethical when we look at something like this we are silently being tripped up along the way by our unconscious.
It does look to me like obvious change is easier to pass off as new art, but shouldn’t every artist be credited in that process?
I recently explored a similar topic “Everything is a Remix” which you might enjoy: https://kenshostudio.substack.com/p/everything-is-a-remix
I'm going to toss this in the mix. I think it's a fresh perspective. Nina Paley on copyright. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XO9FKQAxWZc
I won’t pretend to resolve the situation as presented. I would suggest that “to collaborate or not to collaborate is the question”. If the respective artists do not wish to participate then that work should be excluded. Since we live in such a media rich society, these kinds of problems are only going to continue.
Who owns the copyright to surveillance footage? This can only get more complicated.
As Prince is the one who is profiting big time from someones creative work, I feel he should make the gesture of crediting the photographer. Or even come to some agreement to give a percentage of the sales out of moral duty, or does morality not come into the art world!
I’ll have a lot more to say about this, maybe after I get back from Chichicastenango, where they make art. For the time being: I would find the smugness and arrogance of this discourse nauseating if I had hadn’t spent much of my life putting up with it from philosophers and art-world people far more qualified and sophisticated to spout it out. Hasta la vista.
As an artist - while appreciating that the essence of art history is the ever evolving dialogue between artworks, I agree that the bottom line is about crediting your sources. What is the harm in deepening the conversation with this background information? Surely it only enriches all parties? Not crediting is the difference between homage and theft, oiled as ever by bullshit and bravado. When the original artist is still alive and could financially profit from being credited, not to is just cruel.
A really interesting article showing both sides of the argument and some of the machinations of copyright law. I feel sorry for the original photographers but see the validity of what R Prince is doing.
What a compelling post! I've been following the Warhol/Prince story and wanted to spend more time looking at it. Thank you so much for this historicized and in depth consideration. You bring up some powerful examples. Of course, it's an issue that is not black and white, but I agree with the comments you quote from Justice Kagan...some of the US Justices could 'go back to school' on a few things in my opinion, but art is surely one of them that could perhaps open their eyes to the world a bit more. I also thought of Ed Sheeran's recent legal battles with the commonality of chords during your last comments (vs sampling or stealing). I find the dialogue of art to be a unifying experience as well as an important way we can learn about the world. I would err on the side of allowing these artistic conversations; I think the benefits of what we can gain by pushing ideas further outweigh the risks, although compensation when appropriate and possible can also be part of the solution.
I've just listened to the podcast and will go back through the media more. I really enjoy reading your articles in this way and get more out of it this way.
Prince strikes me as a glorified art thief bullshitting his way through the exploitation of the grey areas of the law. "His own unique contribution" my foot. I majored in graphic design and we were explicitly trained to bullshit clients (which is why I don't work in the field); this is exactly what I'm hearing here. This is not plagiarism, where you copy another person's work in your own production and it's a lot harder to draw a line (and we're usually talking about drawing from a photo or similar), this is unambiguously taking someone's actual work and doing just enough to get away with it. No well-intentioned person takes and sells someone else's image without at least crediting the original maker. If he had the decency of doing that, and/or wasn't so blatantly after his own profit (is he sharing his profits with the actual authors of the images he is nothing without? Didn't think so), I might feel differently, but he's not an artist, just another conman using the system against itself to exploit others with impunity. Just because it's (barely) legal doesn't mean it's moral. Ideas are a dime a dozen and art is not about being clever, though this seems to be the only thing the public understand in these days where everyone wants to be called an artist without doing any work. Frankly this disgusts me, and the fact the art world is all too happy to enable and reward immoral harmful behaviour because they project all sorts of artsy ideas onto it is equally disgusting and why the whole thing has become a closed and self-devouring environment.