Appropriation in Art


Collage, Georges Braque, 1912


is an art term that refers to the more or less direct use of a real object or existing work of art into a new work of art. The practice can be tracked back to the Cubist collages and constructions of Picasso and Georges Braque made from 1912 on, in which real newspapers were included to represent themselves.

This site provides more  examples and discussions on appropriated collage.

Appropriation – definition 

The nature of appropriation art, the borrowing of elements for new work, brings up a number of contentious copyright issues. One debate addresses the amount of original conceptual and aesthetic development that appears in the new work. In this case of appropriation the appropriating artist copies the aesthetic form (as opposed to merely the idea) of the original work. Another serious issue arises where the copyright in the appropriated work still exists and the artist has not consented to the appropriation. In this situation the appropriation artist runs a serious risk of copyright infringement.

Patricia Caulfield vs. Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol’s Flowers were based on a colour photograph of hibiscus blossoms taken by Patricia Caulfield which appeared in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography magazine. When Caulfield saw Warhol’s Flowers, she brought a lawsuit against the artist and was offered two sets of Flowers portfolios as payment for use of her work, but she declined the offer and a cash settlement was arranged.

Gerard Malanga: “Andy realized that he had to be very careful about appropriating for the fear of being sued again. He opted to start taking his own photographs. His entry into photography vis a vis his creation of silkscreen paintings was done out of necessity.”

Art Rogers vs. Jeff Koons

Photographer Art Rogers brought suit against Jeff Koons for copyright infringement in 1989. Koon’s work, String of Puppies’, sculpturally reproduced Rogers’ black-and-white photograph that had appeared on an airport greeting card that Koon’s had purchased. Though he claimed fair use and parody in his defense, Koons lost the case – partially due to the tremendous success he had as an artist.

The picture struck Koons as mass-produced junk — “a cupcake,” as he later called it. But Koons created art by brooding on pop cultural junk, and he decided to assign a group of Italian craftsmen the job of reproducing the photo, with certain subtle changes, in painted wood — a style known, when used in church sculpture, as polychrome. And his artisans, in fact, normally made religious figurines. He tore off the back half of the card — the part with the copyright notice printed in tiny letters — and sent it to the shop in Italy. He asked that as much detail as possible be copied, though the puppies were to be made blue, their noses exaggerated, and flowers to be added to the hair of the man and woman. The sculpture, entitled “String of Puppies’ became a success and Koon sold three of them for $367,000.

 On the issue of fair use, the court rejected the parody argument, as Koons could have expressed the parody of the puppies without directly copying Rogers’ image. Koon’s work was not commenting directly on the work itself, but rather on a general idea so there was no need to copy. The court found both ‘substantial similarity’ and that there was access to the picture. The similarity was so close that the average lay person would recognise the copying.

Thus the sculpture was found to infringe Rogers’ copyright.

Using borrowed elements challenges the idea that an artwork must be entirely original. Historically, there has been a great value placed on the idea that an artwork is a unique and original object created by an individual artist.

In a world now saturated by visual images, many contemporary artists now believe that it is impossible to create a genuinely original image. They believe the appearance and meaning of an artwork is the product of both the artist and many other external influences. No longer the creator of original images, the artist is now seen as a manipulator of existing images, forms and styles. Discuss


Many artists now freely borrow and rework images, forms and styles from art and popular culture, often exploring new approaches to working with them or to reveal new ways to understand them. Read the text at the link below to get an artist’s perspective on appropriation and ownership. Discuss


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