First, the questionsof what appropriation is and how it is defined must be resolved. In legalterms, appropriation refers to the “directtaking over into a work of art of a real object or even an existing work of art”(Weiss, 2013, p. 25). Similarly, according to the Tate Modern Museum (2017) inthe United Kingdom, “Appropriation in art and art history refers to thepractice of artists using pre-existing objects or images in their art withlittle transformation of the original.
” Similarly, according to the Museum of ModernArt (2017):Appropriation is theintentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images andobjects and is a strategy that has been used by artists for millennia, but tookon new significance in mid-20th-century America and Britain with the rise ofconsumerism and the proliferation of popular images through mass media outletsfrom magazines to television. Tate Modern Museum (2017) alsostated that the practice of appropriation can actually be traced back to thecubist collages and constructions that Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque madefrom 1912 on, in which real objects such as newspapers were included torepresent themselves. Furthermore, in a controversial 1970s show, After Walker Evans, Sherrie Levine re-photographedand re-represented a series of Evans’s work. Later on, she also recreated MarchelDuchamp’s famous Fountain in a bronzecast. Apparently, these works showed almost no creative activity or directinnovation on Levine’s part. Moreover, she created almost indistinguishable copiesof others’ work; in her defense, however, she emphasized that authorship isdefined by use rather than individual creation and addressed the act ofappropriating itself as a theme in art (List, 2015, p. 20). As appropriation ofart works is often blurrily defined and raises questions and definitions of authorship,it is an open question whether Levine was ultimately successful in her attempt tocreate a new situation and consequently “create a new meaning or set ofmeanings for a familiar image” (Fairskye, as cited in Taylor, 2011).
Levine’sapproach seems to represent an extreme and radical take on a general inherentunderstanding of appropriation and created new genre of art that marked thecentury. An act of appropriation withoutcredit could become an act of plagiarism. Even Levine, who used appropriationas a form of art, titled her original sources and gave credit. By definition,art plagiarism is generally an act of reproducing the work of another artist orartists and claiming it as one’s original work of art.
According to Kane (2010)plagiarism is defined as the unauthorized use or close imitation of existingartwork and the representation of it as one’s original work. It is not clear ifan artist can really claim authorship of a work that he or she has copied.Copying the physical form is unethical, and physical forms of artwork are easyto appropriate due to their ready reproducibility. The key factor isdetermining when the idea that is intrinsically connected to that image has alsobeen appropriated. This raises the question of whether plagiarism of(nonphysical) ideas exists and whether this interferes with the view that anartist can patent or own ideas. This raises a series of questions on authorshipand the boundaries of what are accepted norms in the art world.
There have been notable legalbattles in the past two decades because of artist appropriation in the artworld (including artists who have been accused of plagiarizing). The notableexamples involve Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, and Sherri Levine. Richard Princesettled a 3-year copyright case with the photographer Patrick Cariou after heused Cariou’s work on an image of a Rastafarian man (See Figure 1; Gajanan,2016). Prince’s appropriating art treatment of Cariou’s photograph stirred upthe art world (Gajanana, 2016) and caused artists, museums, and galleries tosee the legal distinction in terms of what was acceptable and not acceptable inusing an image with consent.