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After God, Everything’s a Knock-off…

February 15, 2010 Art Thoughts No Comments

Is anything original anymore?  Are our  thoughts generally not the outcome of embedded knowledge derived through reading and listening to others?  Are ideas not formulated by reading and studying the works of other people and is not what we create the product of what we witness?  Take the famous case of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can.  Yes he appropriated from Campbell, but did Campbell not appropriate the can from someone else?  What distinguished Campbell’s can from other cans of soup was its label and what distinguished Warhol’s Campbell soup can  from an ordinary Campbell soup can was Warhol’s initiative to use it as his subject matter.

What about literature?  In 2006, a Harvard sophomore by the name of Kaavya Viswanathan, wrote How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. A chick-lit hit, the book landed its author a movie deal.  And then the unthinkable happened:  Kaavya Viswanathan was accused of plagiarizing several books, notably Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings, and The Princess Diaries.  Kaavya Viswanathan’s defense: she had “internalized” some of the content from these books.

What about J.K. Rowling and Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13?  Eva Ibbotson’s reaction?  Eva Ibbotson simply stated that writers always borrow from each other which may explain why she never sued J.K.Rowling.

That’s the thing – we all do borrow from each other.  Great athletes borrow moves from other great athletes, great philosophers borrow (and build) from other great philosophers… what makes an already established idea a “new idea” is interpretation.

John LeKay's "Spiritus Calidus", Crystal Skull, 1993

John LeKay claims that Damien Hirst got his idea for “For the Love of God” from his “Spiritus Calidus” series which were, themselves, inspired by Mayan skulls.  The two artists were friends between 1992-94.  They also exhibited together in a 1994 show in New York.

Damien Hirst's "For the Love of God", 2007

A short while later, Polish artist Peter Fuss offers his own “Made in China” version (his made by “cheap Polish labor”).  The Fuss version costs  £1,000 (compared to the Hirst piece for £50 million) and is made of glass polished and cut to look like diamonds.  Plus, there’s a tooth missing .  Oh, and the skull isn’t cast in platinum the way the Hirst skull is.

Peter Fuss' "For The Love of God", plastic and glass, 2007

Computer graphics artist Robert Dixon accuses Hirst of appropriating his “True Daisy”.  The artist claims that Damien Hirst’s Valium is a copy of his “True Daisy” (published in 1991 in the and Penguin Dictionary of  Curious and Interesting Geometry).  Dixon writes to Hirst’s representatives who (reportedly) write back to Dixion.  Not realizing who Dixon is they allegedly state that Hirst got the idea from an image in saw in the 1991 Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Geometry.

Hirst's Valium, 2000, (on top) and Robert Dixon's True Daisy, 1984.

Irony of Ironies:  Damien Hirst sues sixteen year old artist Cartain (his moniker) for using his skull in a series of collages which begs the question: Doesn’t Kodak want to get in on this?



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