The Case for Copying | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

The Case for Copying | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

this is a photograph by Walker Evans and this is a photograph by Sheree Levine Walker Evans photograph dates from 1936 when he was hired by the Farm Security Administration to document the American South in the wake of the Great Depression Sherri Levine's was taken in 1981 from a reproduction of the Evans photograph as part of a series titled yes after Walker Evans credit where credit is due but a forgery is not at issue here what is Evans photographs are iconic and indisputable documents of a depression they show us its face but what exactly do Levine's photographs show us recent art is full of copying of all kinds and degrees art that borrows Steele's pilfers or poaches existing images some of them iconic others not are these confessions of creative inadequacy bald opportunism masquerading as concept are these cries for help as we drown in an image saturated world or the death rattle of the great pictorial tradition how are we supposed to distinguish this kind of copying from a long history of art full of allusions influences and innumerable instances of visual sampling long before hip hop spread the sonic version of it coast to coast a sample after all is just one part of a whole song but what if the copy is the artwork this is the case for copying artists of course have been copying since time immemorial in fact the earliest Western traditions of aesthetic thought defined art as mimesis or imitation of the visible world but artists don't just imitate the world they imitate each other copying in order to train their hands or demonstrate stylistic innovation they copy to signal the influence of other artworks to claim the prestige of a particular heritage or to rework a stock artistic subject for their own time working from existing imagery and traditions can also suggest new ways to navigate history Raphael's intimate portrait of pope julius ii became a model for Velasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent the tenth which in turn inspired Francis Bacon to make over forty five versions of his own each portrait transgressive in its own time for how it exposed psychological depths of the man at the seat of the church's power Velasquez's Las Meninas was also metabolized by Pablo Picasso who additionally made numerous versions of the déjeuner sur la painted by Edouard in 1863 Monday's dejeuner in turn borrowed its composition from a Raimondi engraving of Raphael's judgment of Paris and its subject from the concession Petra but it's mayonnaise old musician that establishes him as the modernist Mixmaster though it might look like a genre painting the old musician is in fact a composite image with an extravagant number of citations a painted phrase as the art historian Carol Armstrong called it that reads after watch Oh after myself and movie Oh after linen and Velazquez and so on mayonnaise painting is not a window onto another reality but a cluster of representations each one like a song that can be sampled again and again mayonnaise mashup moreover stares back at us the old musician personifies the way that all pictures so to speak regard us images aren't just neutral depictions of the world their instruments influencing how we perceive ourselves and others DISA wareness inspired a number of artists in the late 1970s to make arts that foregrounded representation itself our historians refer to this work as appropriation art in 1977 art critic Donald crimp curated an exhibition titled pictures bringing together artists who shared an interest in understanding the picture itself artists of the pictures generation as they came to be called plundered existing images for their own work Jack Goldstein's film metro-goldwyn-mayer loops the familiar MGM lion's roar suspending us between the pleasure of anticipation and the frustrating deferral of the feature film Dara Birnbaum's technology transformation Wonderwoman fragments and repeats clips from the TV series to draw out the relationship between technology and sexual objectification by isolating and manipulating images these artists direct our attention toward their subtext and demonstrate how they get their meanings not through our actual experience with lions or superheroes but through our associations with other pictures like them in our series of film skills Cindy Sherman photographed herself in the poses and scenarios of generic feminine personas that evoked stalked narratives so that each version of Sherman's seems over determined from the start by our expectations for her as crimp wrote we are not in search of sources or origins but of structures of signification underneath each picture there is always another picture these artists certainly weren't the first to use images from pop culture the aptly named pop art movement built upon the work of artists including Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg who made bronze casts of mass-produced objects or incorporated news prints and rubbish into their work art historian Leo Steinberg described this work as belonging to the flatbed picture plane borrowing the term from the flatbed printing press that had flooded the post-war world with mass media images a Steinberg sought paintings were no longer doorways to imaginary world Avoca our visual experience they were like tabletops strewn with papers and objects to simulated how we look at pictures in newspapers and magazines not incidentally Andy Warhol began his career in advertising war I'll explain that he chose the subjects of his paintings from commercial products to celebrities precisely because everyone already liked them the artists job so Warhol claimed was not to offer up new images of beauty but to reproduce what society had already approved this authorized him to appropriate images of mass-produced objects and to turn them out in the studio he called the factory blurring the distinctions between artist and factory worker and between commodity and art in more recent years Richard Prince who may sit atop the high throne of copied M described his interest in copying this way advertising images aren't associated with an author they look like they have no history to them like they showed up all at once they look like what art always wants to look like yet of course Prince Warhol and other pop artists certainly didn't fade into the woodwork on the contrary a Campbell Soup can is almost synonymous with the name Warhol a single blown up cartoon frame with Roy Lichtenstein pop art held up a mirror to ubiquity of mass media but a mirror is often the weakest form of critique after all that other thing that looks like it showed up all at once without history that's the mass-produced commodity perhaps it's no surprise then that the art market quickly embraced pop art is one more luxury object appropriation art on the other hand had a very different relationship to popular imagery more like certain strands of Dada and surrealism appropriation art sought to understand how images around us inform our psyche and provide a basis for collective life Martha rossler's House Beautiful bringing the war home used a technique similar to surrealist inserting photographs from the Vietnam War into scenes of American domestic life both sets of images were taken from copies of life Rossler just reassembled what was already bound together in the magazine and what only a serious threshold for cognitive dissonance holds apart appropriation art also hearkened back to the ready-made by highlighting how an artist gesture of selection could confer value on the most mundane object like the ready-made appropriation drew attention to the institutions whose operations depend on ideas of exceptionality and originality even an especially in the face of total on originality appropriations by Sturdivant who made perfect copies of artists work in the case of Warhol actually borrowing his silk screens to get the job done as well as those by Sheree Levine compel viewers to question just what kind of value is added by a signature and more importantly what kinds of people have historically been authorized to sign works in the first place hint hint they've usually looked more like Walker Evans and Duchamp than Shari Levine our Sturdivant indeed countless creative achievements in our museums are considered anonymous many of them seized from regions and social groups that have been denied recognition and representation this is to say nothing of conventionally unofficial faults to recipes to Foulke or blues songs in his essay the death of the author the theorist roland bart argued that writing contains many layers of association that can only be unified in the readers experience of a text this meant that the author had no particular authority over the meaning of a book because anything she wrote existed in a web of connotations and cultural significance to interpret a book or an artwork was therefore not to decode it or to identify its definitive meaning but to demonstrate how it functioned in this web of significance Michel Foucault followed with his essay what is an author which argued that an author is actually just an organizing principle that allows us to group together a certain number of cultural objects more importantly it clarifies who did not make the work impeding rather than helping along the free circulation and inventiveness of creative output no less of a paradigm for the artistic genius than Pablo Picasso once said good artists borrow great artists steal this is often taken to mean that great artists transform their influences into their own Austin and original inventions but appropriation art turns this meaning on its head appropriation art asked us to recognize that so-called great artists managed to convince us that their works are authentic and original because society has already given them the power to be authentic and original for reasons that have little to do with genius and a lot to do with the structures of power that concerned Foucault yes there are people who have done amazing things and gotten credit for it and we're grateful for their work but copying shows that the idea of the original originating genius is a myth it shows that this myth is linked to the power of images themselves to determine what kinds of representation visual as well as political are made available in our societies appropriation art well sometimes confounding and often contested helps us see that the context of pictures is absolutely integral to their meaning it reminds us that pictures don't just have histories they exist in history a copy no matter how perfect is never really the same as the original since its context is always shifting and since we exist in history our perspective is always shifting to when artists copy we recognize that they're making fresh meanings through their interaction with signs and symbols and bits of information already out in the world and that this work is never done not for them and not for us the art assignment is funded in part by viewers like you through patreon com a subscription-based platform that allows you to support creators you like in the form of a monthly donation special thanks to our Grand Master of the Arts Indianapolis homes Realty if you'd like to support the show check out our page at slash art assignment


  • torq says:

    I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time now. I’d like to read more about it. Do you have sources or books listed, which helped you for this video?

  • Dario Saquetti says:

    I love this channel but the content sometimes is a bit too fast especially when there are loads of concepts to be digested. Maybe you could slow down a bit in future productions and allow people to speed up using the Youtube playback speed if needed.

  • Sasha Romano says:

    Good artists copy . Punk ass corporate pukes steal to make a few quick bucks .

  • Leo Leon says:

    Holy shit the concept used in 3:31 for the mgm intro and Wonder Woman are actually devices used in adult swim’s too many cooks

  • Ricardo Montanez says:

    This was a waste of 11 minutes.

  • jz btf says:

    Isn’t this video protecting plagiarism? When the line becomes blurry between originality and plagiarism, we shall recognize that we are in a cultural low tide. TAA feeds well for the mass. Very disappointing.

  • Bruce B says:

    I don’t copy. As a result when my art is viewed, it cannot be associated with anything ever seen before. It is original.

  • The Sierra SuTM says:

    manet's crossover episode

  • clive pell says:

    Good artists copy, great artists led zeppelin.

  • Joshua Schell says:

    Standing on the shoulders of those who came before. It's how knowledge is created.

  • Madaline Cannon says:

    All art is fanart. Gotcha.
    However, it's a different subject when someone claims art they did not create as their own (AKA Sherrie Levine). That's just stealing. If you don't put the time and effort into copying something, then you don't deserve to claim it as your own interpretation of it. Simple as that.

  • Talcum says:

    Sherrie Levine is a no-talent hack. She came up with a cheap gimmick and make a career out of it

  • M Bocioaca says:

    I've never seen a painter more puzzling than Manet.

  • Michael Chalmandrier-Perna says:

    The extremely relevant backtrack in this video really got me….

  • Glorrriana says:

    I would have loved more discussion on the controversy surrounding these instances of copying eg. Prince's ig exhibition.
    ps. There is a missing caption on one of your images. It is a gallery photo from the Gottfried Lindauer exhibition "The Māori Portaits" held at Auckland Art Gallery – Toi o Tamaki in 2016/17.

  • stereodreamer23 says:

    Saying that works of ancient art are somehow oppressive of the people who created because they are unsigned or the artists are unknown is disingenuous–they were created in a time and a culture when artists did not sign their works, because their works were not objects of self-aggrandizement or individual expression, but were in most cases religious or ritual objects, and signing them would have been seen as blasphemous and an act of hubris.

    We don't know those artists because they didn't WANT to be known, NOT because of some vast "Western Supremacy Conspiracy"…

  • Aston Animatics says:

    this video was flagged for copyright infringement. all the money will now go to MGM

  • bobm549 says:

    That says it all ! A painter gets $10 for a picture, 20 years later it is resold for $1M .
    A person writes a song and expects the world to pay to listen for ever ?
    Not in my way of reasoning.

  • World War 3 Illustrated says:

    I hope someone appropriates this video.

  • Goo Lagoon says:

    3:47 Dara Birnbaum, creator of the first YouTubePoop

  • Lord Douglas says:

    i don't know if it's just me but so much was being mention, so many images appearing and like no time to digest what the last sentence was talking about

  • aureliogreen says:

    I will thank you if you can share your sources. Great work by the way.

  • LexiDizzle says:

    Nope, this video was a travesty. Everybody loves Roy Lichtenstein but few know who Russ Heath even was. He was the artist whose comics Liechtenstein stole from to make some of his most famous paintings. I get the "theoretical" case for copying, but what about the ethical case? Commercial artists, including comic book artists like Russ Heath, often struggled to make ends meet and (like Heath last August) died in obscurity, while a flat, soulless version of their work that somebody else got paid MILLIONS for hangs in the Tate Modern. The art that Pop Art appropriated may have been created with the intent of being mass produced, but the art itself is a unique object that came from some other artists' minds and labor, and respect should be paid to them.

    How about "The Case for Commercial Art", or "The Case for Sequential Art (Comics)"?

  • Bernhard F says:

    I am thinking about and Appropriation Art and my mind is just whirling rn

  • asderc1 says:

    I disagree with about 30-40% of what was said in this video, and you never came back to the conclude the point on the two identical photos at the start. Still food for thought I guess.

  • Gergő Rácz says:

    Walter Benjamin should've been mentioned imo

  • J R says:

    My FAVORITE new page. Wonderful historical analysis. Love it.

  • love always kate says:

    the cindy sherman copy is kinda annoying though.

  • pinkrobot001 says:

    I really want to watch this video but there's an awful ticking element to the soundtrack that is really abrasive.

  • mj says:

    idk what dumbasses dislike your videos. you're awesome

  • Jesusa De Leon says:

    Couldn't finish watching the video she made me dizzy with her fast talking

  • sarah Owens says:

    I love your channel, excellent job.

  • Donteatacowman says:

    Through this whole video I was thinking "meme culture meme culture meme culture." Especially Youtube poop. I'm not claiming that YTP is great art but that a lot of these great art examples seem to be visual or physical prototypes of the kind of meaningless absurd remixing that YTP survives on. I wasn't expecting the really good point about who, culturally, gets to be named vs who has to be anonymous!

  • Nicolai Degn says:

    7:55 : J.K. take note

  • Quabilot Neka says:

    3:31 Aren’t these two kind of like internet shitposts?

  • Cameron Canty says:

    interesting to see how this video has aged since it's release, considering that Jay Z and Beyonce released a collaborative music video titled "ape sh**" almost bringing to life the exact concept of the dancing at the louvre piece by Faith Ringgold.

  • WibbleWobble says:

    If you can't tell the difference between an original image being photographed, and an original image being done in a completely different style, then something is wrong with you.

  • KloudtheKiller says:

    Don't mind me. Just here for a homework assignment. Gotta watch again cause it all just literally flew over my head.

  • bloodaxe says:

    4chan memes are superior to all art

  • Joanna Rusher says:

    Fyi you say art critic Donald Crimp, but it’s Douglas Crimp as you can see at the bottom of the catalog essay.

    From the website
    Organized by critic Douglas Crimp, Pictures includes the work of Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Philip Smith. Their work represents the first look at important new developments in art thoroughly discussed in the catalog essay written by Douglas Crimp. The five artists in the exhibition share a common interest in the psychological manifestations of identifiable and highly connotative, though non-specific, imagery. Crimp has remarked in his text that “representation has returned in their work not in the familiar guise of realism, which seeks to resemble a prior existence, but as an autonomous function…It is the representation freed from the tyranny of the represented.”

  • Conner Fields says:

    I want to see someone do like an Artist/Philosopher video. I know in the Analytic Tradition Wittgenstein did Photography and Architecture after doing his Tractautus. Decades later Nelson Goodman did a contemporary dance work challenging the distinction between art and sport in Hockey: A Nightmare in 3 Periods and Sudden Death, after doing The Languages of Art and The Ways of Worldmaking. Nietzsche composed music that has been played by others in addition to constructing an new Zarathustra in Thus Spake Zarathustra.

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