Although I am not too proud to admit it, I am largely ignorant of certain privacy laws, copyright regulations and the likes. On top of that, I am one to believe in grand schemes and total conspiracies and that this mysterious and rather grand force is manipulating us into giving up our privacy. Although people like Snowden will vouch for larger plots like me, others will explain they are voluntarily giving away important information because they want to, i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and literally so much more. Anyway, not the point. Because of our abuse of our online presence, the line between what is private and what isn’t is not exactly that clear. And subsequently, our understanding of property has also changed.
Because our understanding of property and privacy is rather unclear, so is our understanding of theft and plagiarism and appropriation. Where and how does art fit into that? I have many questions and practically no answers but here are some ideas for us to consider and discuss in the context of art specifically.
Art theft, to an extent, is greatly romanticized. People will explain that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and that “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” I am not sure I am would propagate either of these philosophies, however, I do understand that as people, we become inspired and there is no possibility that all our ideas are completely original. And the quest for originality can drive one mad (as is displayed in cult favorite A Beautiful Mind). To think that art theft is anything but inevitable is a bit egotistical and to an extent sarcastic. Because it would reflect on the artist’s belief that they can be completely authentic, which I believe to be rather false, art theft is almost necessary, if not romantic. This being said, besides inspiration, there is the other side of the spectrum: blunt plagiarism. Knockoffs are a great example. The question is, do we accept it? And two, how can we decide something is inspired and how can we decide something is copied?
Appropriation is a big deal, especially recently. In short, appropriation is when a privileged group of people pick up a certain trend that the group it originally belongs to is ridiculed for, while they are praised for it. How does this happen in art? The most obvious examples are in fashion, like tribal headdresses, Indian binidis and dreadlocks. Do we consider appropriation art? And are we thankful we can finally celebrate a piece instead of argue who should get the credit? Do we look at them as tributes? Does credit matter? Kanye’s revolutionary ‘Famous’ video is allegedly a tribute to Vincent Desiderio’s “Sleep.” Although the two are completely different, they are literally the same. What is a tribute and what is appropriation? Is this appropriation or is this plagiarism? The content of the Famous video is a completely different topic, however it makes us consider why we would accept something like Sleep and admire it, but completely reject something like Famous.
I, obviously, don’t have any answers but I think there are important things to considering when our privacy and property is continuously being compromised and our understanding of art is still shifting and developing.