Thursday, January 28, 2010


Appropriation is everywhere, in some form or another all through history. Dada, cubism, pop art, conceptual art, modern, and contemporary art all contain cultural borrowing. Appropriating is taking someone else’s imagery, usually without permission (other art, photographs, symbols, objects, etc) and making it your own by putting it into a new context. Many artists work is conceptually based around appropriation. Some of the most popular examples are Duchamp’s readymades and Sherry Levine’s appropriation of Duchamp’s readymade.

After artists like Duchamp and Levine, “stealing” images is not the controversy it once was. Still, appropriation always brings up the question of originality, and we keep discussing it even though appropriation has been fairly common for the last century. When is appropriation appropriate? When is copyrighting a problem? What does original even mean?

Enrique Chagoya

Appropriation is especially relevant to printmaking because of the ease at which we can reproduce images. Over the last century artists like Warhol, Rauschenburg, and Robert Prince have become famous for their use of appropriated imagery in a print context. They exemplify a use of appropriated imagery to comment on the cultural environment at the time. I think this is when appropriation is most successful in conveying a message because it allows the artist to more directly comment on and alter something that we are familiar with. Currently in printmaking it is common (and quite acceptable) to remix appropriated images in with a variety of processes and other images to create unique prints. Anytime you take an image off google images, or a photograph from a magazine and use it in you art, you are appropriating. It’s hard to avoid when so much imagery is so easily accessible, but it also makes me think about the reasons for appropriating. Is it better to take my own pictures than to copy and paste off the internet? Does it matter?

I came across an artist in my research who appropriates in a different way. Krzysztof Wodiczko makes large-scale videos, which he then projects on to national monuments and significant architectural sites to explore how these monuments reflect the past and our memory of it. In this case it is the actual monuments he is appropriating.

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