Friday, January 31, 2020


This book came out several years ago, but the ideas were shopworn years before that

Release rationale:

'Art is theft,’ Picasso once proclaimed, and much of the best and most ‘original’ new art involves an act or two of unequivocal, overt theft. Paradoxically, the law relating to artistic borrowing has grown more restrictive. ‘The plagiarism and copyright trials of the twenty-first century are what the obscenity trials were to the twentieth century’, Kenneth Goldsmith, has observed. ‘These are really the issues of our time.’ Beg, Steal and Borrow offers a comprehensive and provocative survey of a complex subject that is destined to grow in relevance and importance. It traces an artistic lineage of appropriation from Michelangelo to Jeff Koons, and examines the history of its legality from the sixteenth century to now.

Some chapter titles and quotes

 Chapter 1 "How Original Are You?"

"The self -- the thing that makes me so uniquely me and you so uniquely you -- is entirely borrowed" 

Chapter 2 "Thou Shalt Not Steal"

Chapter 3 "…But You Will Be Taught to Copy"

"Michaelangelo's own originality was of an avowedly imitative kind" 

"Copying is the foundation stone of art-making, and the impulse to copy the art of other artists is the progressive motor of art history." 

Chapter 4 "A Brave New Multi-Authored World"

Chapter 6, "Remake, Reuse, Reassemble, Recombine: That's the Way to Go",

 "Art has become one big stylistic mash-up, then, an orgy of copying and collaging beyond the logic of time and place 

"As is only appropriate in a book on appropriating and copying, every word and thought in this text has been borrowed from someone else"


My lecture on how everything is NOT a remix

1 comment:

  1. Radical Fence-SitterJanuary 31, 2020 at 11:02 PM

    Your lecture you link to doesn't give any really compelling arguments against the (re)creativity argument, other than that it is your personal, romantic-modernist notion that it simply "ought not to be". Which is fine. It's a matter of taste after all, not rational arguments.

    Modernity's obsession with innovation is based on the ugly competitiveness of warfare and capitalism (warfare by other means). The whole modernist notion of time being linear, in the sense of having a teleological progression, rather than being cyclical is, as Prof. Arthur Williamson points out, a mere side-effect of the Millennialist cult of the Apocalypse starting in the late Middle Ages and setting off the transition to the Renaissance. Society had to be completely remodeled as a New Jerusalem in order for the Messiah to return. This is what gave rise to the ideal of lineal progression, and the later utopias, including the atheist ones, are merely a secular continuation of this. Even though this has been going on for roughly six centuries, modernity, a.k.a. the viral "temporalisation of the Western mind", is a flash in the pan in the greater scheme of human evolution. Post-modernity suggests a heralding of something more similar to the cyclical time of Antiquity and the Middle Ages, although obviously it won't be the same as way back then.

    But I digress...

    You (almost) make it sound like the pro (re)creativity camp is against innovation, or at least that there is something intrinsic in their way of thinking that stifles innovation. This is not the case. Their beef is with the romantic Western myth of culture as a product of individualists. The magpie approach of remix culture has lead to innovation in the past, as you point out with your Led Zep example, innovating sound while rhymin' & stealin' from blues artists. And it will continue to do so in the future.

    No, the crux of the (re)creativity debate lies elsewhere. Both its proponents and adversaries like to use sweeping statements full of absolutist terms like "everything", "all" and "always". Rather than enlightening analysis we thus get a confusion of straw man arguments based on lazy semantics. (Apologies for going late-stage Wittgenstein here.) Cut away the absolutist rhetoric and one finds that both sides have more in common than that they differ. The extent to which an example of cultural innovation is truly original (a spark of divine inspiration à la the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey) or a much more mundane sounding new recombination of existing stuff cannot be quantified nor qualified. It remains open to interpretation, making for a rather meaningless debate. I guess what I'm trying to say is that whether you believe that "everything is/not a remix" ultimately depends on what your definition of "is" is.

    kind regards.