Appropriation (art)

2 comentarios
*Graphic Design, *Illustration, *Personal

The line between Inspiration and Copying

Some background: Appropriation in art is the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them.The use of appropriation has played a significant role in the history of the arts (literary, visual, musical and performing arts). In the visual arts, to appropriate means to properly adopt, borrow, recycle or sample aspects (or the entire form) of human-made visual culture.

Inherent in our understanding of appropriation is the concept that the new work recontextualizes whatever it borrows to create the new work. In most cases the original ‘thing’ remains accessible as the original, without change.

Why I am even bothering with this is of course a matter of my growing concerns how easily it seems to take the work from others and make it your own… don´t get me wrong is this the fault of the curators? The galleries? Is it art? Is it me?

Of course I am talking of  the artist Richard Prince who has been recently sued yet again for his unauthorized use of an celebrity photographer’s work. He simply cropped the image… But it’s also arguably crucial to Prince’s career as a notorious re-appropriator of pop culture and social-media images. The 65-year-old, who has been called a “ripoff artist” and “Instagram hijacker,” recently made a fortune in New York by selling screenshots taken without consent from Instagram feeds and blown up to canvas size. The prints, many featuring young women’s personal accounts, were tweaked slightly with the addition of cryptic comments from Prince.

So It´s legal to make screenshots or recaptures from everything and then I can sell it as my own creation? I mean this Richard Prince’s New Portraits exhibit showed at New York’s Gagosian Gallery, featuring blown-up screengrabs of other people’s Instagram photos. Some of the canvases sold to private collectors for up to $90,000… so he sell screenshots from others work… stating that when its in the web its public use… and only because he printed them big and added his own comments the meaning of the original work is decontextualized?

I don´t know what makes me confused the fact that if I had done something like that no gallery in their right mind would accepted it and I probably would be on courts for the rest of my life with my career probably finished…

I can not understand how this can even be stated as legal normally when I shot a portrait session there exist a Portrait Photography Agreement but Appropriation artist have the right to take screenshots from people from the web without the consent of the person portrayed thats something I simply can´t  believe. Even me the creator is bonded by legal terms agreed with the client… and they simply ignore them…

On the other hand

Throughout the history of art the creators had to break with the established norms otherwise they would not have created new marvels so is this something we should consider? Though this movement is nothing new, in the early twentieth century artists appropriated objects from a non-art context into their work (but I will not enter here in history) the only difference is that is has become only more faceable and easier in the digital age and since the 1990s, the exploitation of historical precursors is as multifarious as the concept of appropriation is unclear.

So how to stay on the right side

We all draw inspiration from the works of others. At the same time we want to stay away from outright copying those works. Sometimes without intention we cross into the latter. How can we avoid copying, while still taking something from the designs that inspire us?

There are circumstances where it’s ok and even advisable to copy the work of someone else. Generally it’s when you’re learning. Copying from the masters is an accepted part of the learning process. To better understand how something was created you copy it as close as you can and learn from the experience of doing.

  • The act of copying helps train your technical muscles.
  • Photographers learn to emulate the masters as close as they are able.
  • Painters create variations of the masters and copy brush strokes or color palettes.
  • Musicians learn to play the riffs of others exactly as they hear them.
  • Designers mimic the type, grids and color of those that inspire them.

While it’s ok to copy to learn, it’s not ok to copy someone’s work and pass it off as your own for commercial purposes. I think we’d all agree that’s wrong and it’s in part why copyright laws exist. However, every industry has a certain mentality where some lead and the rest copy. Design is no different and most designs are at some level a copy of another design.

There are other connections between drawing inspiration and copying as well. When starting a design it’s not uncommon to ask clients for a list of designs they like and why they like them. I’ve had clients insist on wanting to use colors similar to another design or suggest the layout of other work because it was exactly what they envision for their own.


Why I actually think that the form of how some artists practice Appropriation (art) is not fair like Richard Prince is the fact that his appropriation does not enhance or elevate the meaning of the original work. I even doubt that the new work is actually so decontextualized to consider it Appropriation (art). But it does draw attention for sure in the way he does. So my question is this some sort of critic? does the galleries only expose his work due to public attention? Is it actually a form of art in which my education and conditioning screams to me that it has to be wrong… avoiding that I see it as an form of great art.

We learn and grow in part by copying others. That’s not a bad thing. What is bad I think is trying to pass off someone else’s work as your own. By all means copy as much as you want when learning or to help develop your voice as a designer, but stay far behind the line that separates being inspired by and copying from when doing real work and charging someone for it.

Is it even possible to stay behind that line that separate your source of inspiration as much as you can from your finished work. I try to stay critically about what inspires me and why.

I try to be honest or thats what I like to think… I have never consciously tried to copy directly another design and I have no problem if someone connect my work to some of the original inspiration that’s ok.

Concept art armor

A sketch that I rejected because it remembered me of something that I have already forgot… interesting… I would like to hear your thoughts so feel free to comment:

A link to another interesting form of appropriation art How a Science Fiction Book Cover Became a $5.7 Million Painting

Escrito por

Founder of Lichtbild & Head of his own strange world / Vintage Enthusiast / Photographer / Graphic Designer /Typography "lover" / Book Collector / Spanish+German Mix / Lives in Coruña / Sometimes heads back home & Sleeps. /*

2 thoughts on “Appropriation (art)”

  1. Mimicry is a great learning tool. Beyond learning, the difference between inspiration and passing off can be slight. I know courts struggle with this distinction all the time. Where it is a close call, I think it is probably appropriate to reveal the inspirational source (at least is seems an honest approach), and then others are free to determine whether what is added or changed is itself a form of art. But ideally, I think most of us desire to create something new, something breathtaking, something that actually contributes in a meaningful way to the art form we practice.

    Le gusta a 1 persona


Introduce tus datos o haz clic en un icono para iniciar sesión:

Logo de

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Cerrar sesión /  Cambiar )

Google photo

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Google. Cerrar sesión /  Cambiar )

Imagen de Twitter

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Twitter. Cerrar sesión /  Cambiar )

Foto de Facebook

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Facebook. Cerrar sesión /  Cambiar )

Conectando a %s