In the visual arts, to appropriate
means to adopt, borrow, recycle or sample aspects (or the entire form)
of man-made visual culture. Strategies include "re-vision,
re-evaluation, variation, version, interpretation, imitation,
proximation, supplement, increment, improvisation, prequel... pastiche,
paraphrase, parody, forgery, homage, mimicry, travesty, shan-zhai, echo,
allusion, intertextuality and karaoke." The term appropriation
refers to the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work (as
in 'the artist uses appropriation') or refers to the new work itself (as
in 'this is a piece of appropriation art'). Art practices involve the
'appropriation' of ideas, symbols, artefacts, image, sound, objects,
forms or styles from other cultures, from art history, from popular
culture or other aspects of man made visual or non visual culture.
Inherent in the process of appropriation is the fact that the new work
recontextualizes whatever it borrows to create the new work. In most
cases the original 'thing' remains accessible as the original, without
Anthropologists have studied the
process of appropriation, or cultural borrowing (which includes art and
urbanism), as part of cultural change and contact between different
The terms of appropriation and
variation on a theme are sometimes used interchangeably.
Appropriation of visual culture and art, in some form or another,
has always been part of human history. Art History and art historical
practice has a long tradition of borrowing and using styles and forms
from what came before. Students of art and established artists have
always learned and progressed by copying and borrowing. The act of
making art and visual culture began with appropriation; borrowing
images, sounds, concepts from the surrounding world and re-interpreting
them as art. Appropriation can be seen as the way in which humans
progress and learn.
Some might interpret
Leonardo da Vinci
as an appropriation artist. Da Vinci used recombinant methods of
appropriation, borrowing from sources as diverse as biology,
mathematics, engineering and art, and then synthesizing them in to
inventions and works of art. Charles Darwin examined, recontextualized
and disseminated artistic etchings of science and nature to prove his
Theory of Evolution.
In the early twentieth century
appropriated objects from a non-art context into their work. In 1912,
Picasso pasted a piece of oil cloth onto the canvas. Subsequent
compositions, such as Guitar, Newspaper, Glass and Bottle (1913) in
which Picasso used newspaper clippings to create forms, became
categorized as synthetic cubism. The two artists incorporated aspects of
the "real world" into their canvases, opening up discussion of
signification and artistic representation.
Five years later, in 1917,
Duchamp introduced the idea of the
readymade. That year he entered Fountain into the American Society of
Independent Artists exhibition. The work consisted of a urinal, lying on
its side atop a pedestal with the signature "R. Mutt". The urinal
appeared neither original nor rare, Duchamp's "creativity" as an artist
lies in the gesture of selecting the urinal as an art piece and
displaying it in an artistic context. Duchamp also went so far as to use
existing art in his work, appropriating an apparent copy of the Mona
Lisa into his piece, L.H.O.O.Q. Recent speculation regarding Duchamp's
appropriated urinal claimed that the urinal was "non-standard" and
"non-functional", and that
custom-designed it along with his other supposed readymades," however,
this has never been substantiated.
movement (including Duchamp as an associate) continued with the
appropriation of everyday objects, but their appropriation did not
attempt to elevate the "low" to "high" art status, rather it produced
art in which chance and randomness formed the basis of creation.
artists included Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings,
Richard Huelsenbeck, André Breton, Tristan Tzara, and
A reaction to oppressive intellectual rigidity in both art and everyday
society, Dada works featured deliberate irrationality and the rejection
of the prevailing standards of art.
who produced art at the same time as the Dadaists, shows a similar sense
of the bizarre in his "merz" works. He constructed these from found
objects, and they took the form of large constructions that later
generations would call installations.
coming after the Dada movement, also incorporated the use of "found"
objects such as
Object (Luncheon in Fur) (1936). These objects took on new meaning when
combined with other unlikely and unsettling objects.
produced what might be
considered the first work of film appropriation in his randomly cut and
reconstructed film 'Rose Hobart'. This work was to inspire later video
In the 1950s
used what he dubbed "combines", literally combining readymade objects
such as tires or beds, painting, silk-screens, collage, and photography.
Jasper Johns, working
at the same time as Rauschenberg, incorporated found objects into his
work. Johns also appropriated symbolic images such as the American flag
or the "target" symbol into his work.
The Fluxus art movement also utilised
appropriation: its members blended different artistic disciplines
including visual art, music, and literature. Throughout the 1960s and
1970s they staged "action" events, engaged in politics and public
speaking, and produced sculptural works featuring unconventional
materials. The group even appropriated the postal system in developing
mail art. The performances sought to elevate the banal by appropriating
it as "art" and dissembling the high culture of serious music.
Along with artists such as
appropriated images from commercial art and popular culture as well as
the techniques of these industries. Often called "pop artists", they saw
mass popular culture as the main vernacular culture, shared by all
irrespective of education. These artists fully engaged with the ephemera
produced from this mass-produced culture, embracing expendability and
distancing themselves from the evidence of an artist's hand.
In 1958 Bruce Conner produced the
influential 'A Movie' in which he recombined film clips to produce this
seminal work that comments on the propensity for humankind toward
violence. At the same time Raphael Montanez Ortiz was involved in the
'Destructionist' movement in which objects and film were cut up, taken
apart, burned and partially destroyed and then reformed to create new
works. In 1958 Ortiz produced "Cowboy and Indian Film', a seminal
appropriation film work.
In the late 1970s Dara Birnbaum was
working with appropriation to produce feminist works of art. In 1978-79
she produced one of the first video appropriations. 'Technology,
Transformation : Wonder Woman' utilised video clips from the Wonder
Woman television series.
The term appropriation art was in
common use in the 1980s with artists such as Sherrie Levine, who
addressed the act of appropriating itself as a theme in art. Levine
often quotes entire works in her own work, for example photographing
photographs of Walker Evans. Challenging ideas of originality, drawing
attention to relations between power, gender and creativity, consumerism
and commodity value, the social sources and uses of art, Levine plays
with the theme of "almost same".
During the 1970s and 1980s Richard
Prince re-photographed advertisements such as for Marlboro cigarettes or
photo-journalism shots. Prince's work spoke to issues of materialism and
the idea of spectacle over lived experience. His work takes anonymous
and ubiquitous cigarette billboard advertising campaigns, elevates the
status and focusses our gaze on the images. The viewer questions the
concept of masculinity portrayed in these heroic billboards and their
relationship to the advertising campaign.
Appropriation artists comment on all
aspects of culture and society. Joseph Kosuth appropriated images to
engage with philosophy and epistemological theory. Other artists working
with appropriation during this time with included Jeff Koons, Barbara
Kruger, Greg Colson, and Malcolm Morley.
In the 1990s artists continued to
produce appropriation art, using it as a medium to address theories and
social issues, rather than focussing on the works themselves. Damian
Loeb used film and cinema to comment on themes of simulacrum and
reality. Other high-profile artists working at this time included
Christian Marclay, Deborah Kass and Damien Hirst.
Artists working today[update]
increasingly incorporate and quote from both art and non-art elements.
For example, Cory Arcangel incorporates aspects of cultural nostalgia
through re-working vintage video games and computer software. Other
contemporary appropriation artists include the Chapman brothers,
Benjamin Edwards, Joy Garnett, Nikki S. Lee, Paul Pfeiffer, Pierre