Saturday, November 7, 2009


Two articles in the StarTribune this week caused me to think more deeply about remixing and appropriation. One was the review of the show "Afterword" at Thomas Barry Fine Arts. The artist, Thomas Allen, cuts up pulp novel covers from the postwar era, then remixes the images to create new scenes. He explores perspective, 'leveraging depth perception, shadow and the occasional blurred focus to punch up the intrigue,' according to Greg Scott, the reviewer. I expect that the copyright has expired on the old novels, so Allen is free to use them in his new work. Scott thinks that Allen's work is more 'camp' than art, but it caused me to wonder how artists have been using appropriation for many years. (I remember a music teacher criticizing Resphigi for being un-original since all he did was 'remix' some ancient airs and dances and call it new music).

The other article was on the editorial page, an ongoing conversation about Shephard Fairey's use of an AP image of Obama to make his famous HOPE illustration. Stephen Bergerson, a trademark attorney, says that the issue is one of copyright--the original photo was taken by an Associated Press photographer, but it was Fairey (and Obama) who benefitted from the photo. Mina Leierwood, a Minneapolis artist and activist, had previously written that the HOPE image had become so iconic that it belongs to the people, not the AP. The question that is raised for me is: did Fairey transform the image deliberately to make money or fame or did he use it as a starting point to make new art? The link above cites some online comments from others as well. I would think that other people had similar photos of Obama, but that the AP one was most readily available. Does intent matter? If Fairey hadn't been so artistic/creative would the appropriation have really mattered? I honestly haven't been following the ins and outs of this discussion, but it raises some of those questions of fair use and copyright new technology is causing us to ponder.


  1. In elementary language is this also a reflection on which comes first the chicken or the egg?. Your thoughtful analysis gives us more to ponder especially after following Fairey's use of the AP image and not clearly understanding when appropriation gives the 'go ahead.' Recent research about memory shows how vague and unreliable our memories are and how our memory of our intent changes over time while also adjusting to put us in a more favorable light. This is a complicated an intriguing area.

  2. JoAnn, you tap into some deep issues regarding authorship, intention, and ownership, all of which are challenged when looking at digital media composition and distribution. This is a perfect follow-up to our discussion last week on Fair Use and here you were thinking (and writing) about it weeks previous.

    Thanks for sharing these highly relevant links.