The sincerest form of flattery? Influence vs Imitation



There is a difference between an artist being influenced by another artist and an artist taking someone’s work and slightly altering it, but how can one really tell that difference? Taking someone’s art and changing parts of it can cause viewers to take away different interpretations from the original, but the artist who took the work and changed it slightly, to use it as their own work, is nonetheless using someone else’s work. The original artist went through the whole creative process, getting the idea, developing it, and taking the time to make whatever it is they were making.

Those modern values (newness, creativity, etc) that the original artist had gone through are not so much valued in the Postmodern age. Previous modern values/theories are no longer being able to sufficiently describe the contemporary culture, politics, society we live in. ¹

This is where fair use and the Copyright Act of 1976 comes in. To sum up the Copyright Act of 1976 the act gives protection against the transgression of copywriting where an artist can explain their use of the work. There are four parts of the Copyright Act that will be looked into: the nature and motive of the work/piece’s use, the nature of the basic copyrighted work, the amount of the work being used, and the usage’s result on the original piece’s worth in the market. ²

Theorist Sanja Lazic raises an important question: with all forms of art being already created is there any sense of originality left? Can an artist really maintain that authorship, authority for something for example a work of art/music/writing, if there is no sense of originality? ³

Theoreticians, such as Roland Barthes, recommend that the “author” should be terminated. This termination is an exceedingly challenging approach to understand. Theorist Michel Foucault answers a theory in his essay “What is an Author”, this theory states that the author is a demanding concept. Foucault has his readers consider the “author” not only just a “person” or an “originator,” but as “something like a subject.”. Foucault claims that the “author” is “the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning,” through searching the straightforward “one impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of fiction”. ⁴ Barthes argues that writing diminishes the voice we have, that writing destroys all sense of identity as well as destroys our own discussions, proposals, etc. The approach Barthes has to writing is more of an invalid approach than a mere turnaround. Barthes contrasts the traditional view of an “author” versus the “scriptor,” who is one with the text, as well as the book, as well as one who can anticipate or surpass the writing. Whatever differences both theorists Barthes and Foucault have their theories share a great deal of common ground. Their theories steer towards a concept of the “author” that is different from our previous understanding. ⁴

Postmodern appropriation artists tend to reject the ‘originality’ concept and are for using other imagery that have already been created. Postmodern appropriation artists believe that by altering the already existing imagery that they are showing a new meaning of the original work.  When it comes to appropriation in contemporary art authorship and originality are exceedingly essential to that dispute of appropriation in contemporary art. ⁵




  1. Douglas Kellner, “Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern,”  Routledge (1995)
  2. Jessica Meiselman, “Why Does an Artist’s Appropriation Become Copyright Infringement?” (Dec 28, 2017)
  3. Sanja Lazic. Authorship in Art – The Victim of Appropriation (Dec 28, 2017)
  4. Robert Siegle, “The Concept of the Author in Barthes, Foucault, and Fowles,” The Johns Hopkins University Press, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Spring, 1983), pg. 126-138
  5. Hayley A. Rowe, “Appropriation in Contemporary Art,” Inquiries Journal, Vol. 3, No. 06 (2011), pg. 1/1


Opening Contemporary Art Copyright © by Sarah Parrish. All Rights Reserved.

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