Sunday, November 28, 2010

Contradictions: Appropriation Vipers are Easy to Spot

Contradictions: Appropriation Vipers are Easy to Spot

I’ve been involved with a debate on critic Alan Bamberger’s Facebook Wall about the challenges some people have while visiting artist websites. Today I decided to catch up on the conversation and I noticed that New York based artist Joy Garnett offered her two cents on the topic. Garnett stated, “It's also important to allow people to grab jpegs of your work with ease - as opposed to preventing it - so they can easily post and distribute them…”. Garnett’s advice caused me to laugh because her history-- and what she has supported in the face of copyright and the rights of the majority of artists-- speaks for itself.

Those who know of Joy Garnett know that she tends to focus on sampling in new media art and with appropriation art. Often that results in total disregard for the motivations and name recognition of fellow artists and other creative individuals. Thus, her opinion on appropriation art in general tends to run in line with those who strive to weaken copyright law as we know it. In my eyes she walks hand-in-hand with artists such as Shepard Fairey who wave the banner of free culture while being overly protective of their own artwork.

I have nothing personal against Joy Garnett-- but I will stress that I do not agree with her viewpoint on copyright nor do I care who I insult with my opinions. It is not uncommon for me to be told that I’m “closed-minded” or a “fossil” due to my strong support for copyright and the rights to ownership in general. That said, I firmly stand by my opinion that copyright-- and the protection offered by copyright registration-- is more vital today than ever.

What troubles me about artists-- such as Joy Garnett and Shepard Fairey-- is that they express a sense of bravado in regards to the concept of free culture while at the same time contradicting themselves on the subject. For example, Fairey has sent cease-and-desist letters to artists who appropriate his widely known images. If he is a strong supporter of ‘fair use’ -- as he claims to be-- I would think that he would accept that his iconic images are prime targets for ‘fair use’ in general. However, that does not seem to be the case with Shepard Fairey-- especially if the artist makes a profit.

I’ve come to the conclusion that strong supporters of ‘fair use’-- to the point that copyright is weakened for all artists-- only do so for their own self-serving motivation. Point blank-- they are in the position to profit off of the works of others and have the backing to prevent others from profiting off of them. I've said it before and I shall say it again-- don’t confuse creative freedom with the need for some artists to profit off of other artists. They are waving the banner of creative freedom when in reality the focus is on profit and profit alone-- their profit. Profit with total disregard for the profit and market of their peers

I'm a strong supporter of copyright-- I always will be. I'm not against appropriation art either-- as long as it falls within current law and does not seek to weaken copyright for the majority of artists. It appears that some of the loudest voices who desire to see current copyright weakened are artists who focus on appropriation art and also have the benefit of already having gallery representation-- or have made a name for themselves in other ways. It is clear to me that at heart their opinions are self-serving even though they raise the banner of free culture and imply that “relics” like me need to “get with the times”.

I have no doubt that some individuals chuckle at my opinion-- but if the tables are turned their expression changes from one of amusement to anger. The fact remains that if I were to walk into a New York art gallery featuring works by appropriation artists and made it clear that I plan to take photographs in order to create my own works based off the displayed artwork I would most likely be asked to leave by gallery staff-- or threatened with arrest. The contradictions are amusing. It appears to me that they seek to protect their own culture.

With that in mind, don’t get me started on the number of appropriation artists who have sent cease-and-desist letters to artists who ‘sample’ their artwork. I get sick of the contradictions. Appropriation artists who are overly vocal on the concept of ‘fair use’ and imply that copyright limits creative culture appear self-serving to me-- especially when they don’t practice what they preach in regard to how artists use their artwork. I know an appropriation viper when I see one.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


  1. Bravo, well said. It's time for those who practice the "What I have is mine, what you have is mine, too" way of "borrowing" and then not giving back. If they really think it is okay to use other people's material and ideas, then it ought to be fine for others to do it with their work. That it isn't speaks volumes.

    Beyond that, do they share the money they make from "borrowed" work incorporated into their "original" work? I doubt it. Again, the same sort of selfish outlook with all the wealth from their borrowing flowing into their bank accounts never to be shared.

  2. THANK YOU for this insightful post; much appreciated.

  3. Regarding artists appropriating other people's copyrighted images and ideas and using them for profit: They've wrapped themselves in the banner of artistic freedom to create contention and divert attention to the ideas of an image copyright and of intellectual property enforcement, which are now the "bad guys".

    One way to cut through the smoke and mirrors is to turn the issue on its side. What if the copyrighted images and ideas being appropriated were being taken not by other artists, but by advertisers? Is copyright protection now valid if the appropriated content is set to appear in, for example, a Nike ad?

    I suspect that the same artists appropriating content for their own purposes would object if their actions were compared to copyright violations by a big corporate entity. But the action - illegal appropriation - is the same.

    I think you're definitely on the right side of this one.
    I don't think that artists are well-served by claiming the status of a privileged class rather than a professional classification ... but that's a whole 'nuther can of worms.

  4. I agree absolutely. Each day I post a Daily Painting. I know there are offices that are papered with prints of my Dailys. Meanwhile I blocked this. I learned a lot disputing with a blogger last January. I had an exhibition in Bristol, UK and she saw it and stated, that I was trying to sell pictures, would contradict the idea of sharing them in the internet. She added a few thoughts about consum terror. I asked her how she would think I would earn a living as a professional artist by giving away everything and how she would make her living, how the gallery should pay the rent and so on. It ended with her blocking my comments because of being rude.
    Copyright is more than making profit out of your work. It's a form of respect. Every blogger may share my work but he has to ask, that's the least. And this respect can also be payable in money, but also in love, in dialogues, in compliments, in discussions. Respect encourages the artist, and the respect, love and compliments I get meanwhile from my work drives me since 21 months to paint, scan and post my Daily Painting every single day.

  5. This post is one of the most important I have ever read, because I fully support the rights of autor.em every country in the world there are those
    that suck the smart ideas of who is creative.
    Congratulations Mr Brian Sherwin