Summer Reading

Summer Reading – It’s Not Stealing If It’s Art: A Re-Primer on Image Appropriation for the Internet Generation

From our friends at MOMUS, today we bring you “It’s Not Stealing If It’s Art: A Re-Primer On Image Appropriation for the Internet Generation.” This funny, provocative essay by RM Vaughan considers recent skirmishes that involve images created or reused by the Suicide Girls, Richard Prince, Arabelle Sicardi and Tayler Smith, and Zak Arctander. Vaughan delineates his position with the question: “Here is where I must ask, what don’t visual artists today get about putting imagery up on the internet? Once you click ‘post,’ you lose ownership. And you know this because you participate in the grab-ass yourself.” This essay was originally published on July 6, 2015.

Left, Arabelle Sicardi and Tayler Smith's original photograph, "Hari Nef," 2014. Right, Zak Arctander's appropriation, "Cheeks," 2015.

Left, Arabelle Sicardi and Tayler Smith’s original photograph, “Hari Nef,” 2014. Right, Zak Arctander’s appropriation, “Cheeks,” 2015.

Julia Kristeva branded the concept of “intertextuality” nearly four decades ago, but technology and philosophy are poorly matched bedfellows. It’s time to spell out the basics of appropriation in visual culture for the smartphone generation.

I’m sorry that the above sounds paternalistic on my part. Actually, I’m not. An entire generation of artists raised on the internet shouldn’t need instruction on how image transference and re-purposing works: You created this free-for-all; please stop complaining when you occasionally fall down and get a boo-boo in your own bouncy castle.

Of course, I am referring to two recent art “outrages,” one involving Richard Prince and his re-purposing of images created by, among others, the for-profit pin-up site Suicide Girls; and another upset attributed to an alleged follower of Prince, who re-purposed the work of two emerging queer feminist photographers.

I rather doubt the Prince works would have received a tenth of the press they did (and that I am giving them now) had it not been for the (delayed) reaction by some of the artists and models featured in the show. Prince skimmed through his Instagram feed, picked some photos of women he found attractive (a sadly predictable lot of rather traditional sexpot images), and blew up the scans. He first showed these blow-ups at Gagosian Gallery over a year ago, and nobody cared. Then the works started selling at the Frieze Art Fair New York for around 100K, and suddenly everybody cared. A vacuous collection of casual gestures by an over-rewarded artist, a series of works that ought to have been yawned into oblivion, became a cause celebre.

Read the full article here.