The relationshipof Authorship and Appropriation within Graphic Design Any form of graphic design or art format is going to bejudged and critiqued by its reader in response to both the content and theauthor. An early interpretation of the ‘author’ simply denotes to ‘the personwho originates or gives existence to anything’ by means of all the forms ofcommunication existing writers, designers, photographers, and illustrators.
‘Authorship’ can be seen as ‘the state or fact of being the writer of abook, article, or document or the creator of a work of art’. This essay willshed light on how authorship is viewed in graphic design and how that has affectedthe way design is seen and produced. Appropriation art goes hand in hand withauthorship; this essay explores how the two aspects relate to each other. TheTate defines appropriation as ‘Appropriationin art and art history refers to the practice of artists using pre-existingobjects or images in their art with little transformation of the original’. Whilst explainingand drawing upon appropriation, writers such as Barthes and Foucault to look atdifferent opinions on the subject of authorship. Authorship is generally a very modernproblem; it has a sense of importance to it, which is the reason it became sucha big obsession during the 20th century. M.
Rock says “the question of how designers become authors is a difficultone… exactly who qualifies and what authored design might look like” authorshipand what creates it is a tough concept to pinpoint because it is subjective tomany people. M. Foucault stated that the concept of the ‘author’ is sociallyestablished. He drew attention to the fact that a culture where a conversationwould be passed around without stating the author is a culture in which it didnot matter who was speaking it only mattered about the conversation, which inthis case would be art. However, R. Barthes went further by announcing the’death of the author’. Barthes believes that the author is not really theauthor, but is somewhat the ‘scripture’ that is there to plainly piece togetherpre-existing texts that they have become aware of. Barthes argues thateverything has meaning, which is derived from earlier cultures.
W.K. Wimsatt, Jr.
,and Monroe C. Beardsley, in ‘The Intentional Fallacy’, agreeswith Barthes when he argues that everything has meaning. However they attributethe happenings within the work, and their meanings, to that of the speaker orreader and not that of the author. It is said that a writer or artist’sintentions cannot be the standard or criterion to judge the merit of the workat hand. They believe that we look at art to see how it relates to our lives atthat given time. For example, if we see a piece of design once and then againtwenty years later, the design work is still the exact same however the way weperceive or judge it could be completely different. It is stated that “a workbelongs to neither the artist or the critic, but instead, to the public” fromthis they were trying to put forward the idea that the work of art offersmeaning to a wide spectrum of readers, all who interpret it differently.
Showing that the authorship belongs to the public because if you are at agallery you can only interpret what you can see, knowing that you can not askthe artist who created it about their intentions to do with that piece ofdesign you are viewing. In relation to a graphic designer,ownership, and authority are granted to them at the expense of a viewer thusmeaning that designers were heading more toward a textual position where it waseasier for them to state some level of authorship to their work. It is notalways the case that the name attached to the piece of work is the soledesigner of that piece; the most design is created in a collaborative setting.
A clear example of this would be the client-designer relationship or thecreation of the work in a design studio. However, the name attached to thepiece of work, for example, Andy Warhol is often there to direct other creativepeople to work in the style that he sets out for them. This is where toquestion of authorship can be seen as blurred. What makes the work of a designer reallytheirs? In the 21st century, it is questioned whether any design can be trulyoriginal, as some part of a design, even if it is small, it has probably beenbased on something pre-existing, most likely without the designer realising.Aware of this how is a designer to know when to claim authorship over theirwork if it is always being questioned about the true originality of where theirideas and designs came from. Some of the most recent upcoming and famousdesigners are basing their designs and art on reproducing existing art. Themain issue with this, however, is when does this remaking of art turn intoforgery and where is the line drawn? This can be seen as appropriation in art.
Appropriation is not a method that has justcome around; it has been a permitted statement for over a century. Authorshipand appropriation are two aspects that have continually been related to each other. MoMA defined appropriation as the’international borrowing, copying and alteration of pre-existing images andobjects’. The 1960’s was when appropriation artists plainly designed copies ofwork by other artists with very small amounts of manipulation or modification.Appropriation became a more well-known and common strategy in the 1980’s whenit was mentioned in relation to artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and AndyWarhol. This was the period where a lot of iconic pieces of art were created asthese artists appropriated images from pop culture and commercial art, whichwas prominent in the general publics eyes thus giving them more popularity. Thework of these appropriation artists can be seen to back up Barthes’ initialidea of the ‘death of the author’ due to the fact that the artists areextracting pieces of previous work, if not the majority of it, which gives theimpression that the original artist is not needed.
It is very rare that appropriation art isabout disrespecting or taking the authorship of another designer. It is alsonot to be seen as an indication of laziness. Elaine Sturtevant could beregarded to be the earliest applier of appropriation art, her first andforemost focus was to use the exact techniques that the artists she was appropriatingfrom had used. It has been said that in one case, Warhol lent his screens toSturtevant so that she could reproduce her copies of his work on silkscreens.Most artists who appropriate use this technique on the grounds of theirinterest for the previous artists’ work, or how existing pieces of work orimages can be manipulated or used to create new and exciting work. However thisis not the case for Sturtevant, she took appropriation art to a new, drasticmeasure where she questioned the concept of authorship. To do so she paints anaccurate copy of an artist’s work then goes on to declare ownership, whilstfully admitting to everyone that she knows it is an exact copy.
In the 60’s shesaid she allowed herself one ‘mistake’ so that she could differentiate betweenher piece and the original piece. This sort of appropriation relates back towhat W.K. Wimsatt, Jr., and Monroe C. Beardsley both wrote about in ‘TheIntentional Fallacy’ where they say that art buries its creator in order tospeak its own meaning to the reader or creator.
The appropriation thatSturtevant does relates to this because it is asking what is qualified to betreated as art is made by others and not herself, however, her work is an exactreplica so why not treat it the same and bury the creator. Sherrie Levine is another appropriationartists from the late 1970’s, who was included in a group of conceptual artiststhat were known as the ‘Pictures generation’. She used photography to examinevisual representation through the use of appropriation techniques. Instead ofexploring new concepts and ideas for a photograph, Levine decided tore-photograph reproductions of images by photographers such as Edward Westonand Walker Evans. Levine’s appropriation of Evans’ work became a prominentfeature of postmodernism, it was not appreciated by all but was recognised bymany. Her photographs were almost identical to the originals, which is whythere was such controversy about them.
In none of her photographs was there anyattempt to misguide the viewer into thinking it was all Levine, the name of theoriginal artist is often acknowledged within the title of the work which isvery interesting. The initial image of what we know an artistor designer to be is someone who created a piece of work. Now when we look atan appropriation artist or designer we start to question their authorship dueto the fact that aspects of their work are taken from previously existingartwork. One difference between an appropriation artist and the original artistis the meaning behind the work. As the reader of a piece of work you askquestions to do with what the artists meaning behind it would be and that isthe intention of most artists. However Barthes says in ‘The Death of theAuthor’ that if the reader were to view the work through the eyes of thecreator they would not benefit from this piece of work as when you associatethe creator with that work then you are then trying to guess what the creatormeant and not just looking at the piece of work.
By including other aspects ofpeoples work in their work, appropriation artists, they withhold the right tohave their own meaning attach to their work. If we think back to Evans photograph andLevine’s appropriation of his photograph, Evans would have made decisions and judgementsfor that photograph which resulted in it looking how we all see it now whichshows meaning to his work. If Evans chose a different frame or a differentsubject the image would not look as it does, however looking at Levine’s copyof his photograph she made no decisions apart from the one to allow her imageto look almost identical to Walker Evan’s. Thus questioning whether she is thereal artist and if it is actually her work. However, it was her who organisedeverything for her photograph to look the same as Evans, again showing wherethe question of authorship is blurred.
Saying this, appropriation artists havebeen acknowledged as artists. Levine, for example, has had work exhibited inthe Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thus showing that the world of art accepts themand grants them their rightful authorship of their work. However, how would theartists whose art is being appropriated, such as Walker Evans, feel? Evanswould have spent all his time and effort on a photograph, which has just beencopied by Levine, and her newer version has been accepted in the art world asher own and not just a copy of his. Is Levine’s authorship really authorship inthe tradition sense of it? It wasn’t her decisions, which made every detail ofthe work; some could even class her appropriation and lack of decisions asforgery.
Forgery can be seen as outright copies ofwork that already exists or it can be seen as a pastiche that can be there toimitate a specific artist or in fact a time period that art has been createdin. Either way the work that is created by the forgery and the original workare so similar so we now wonder what the relevant distinction between them are.What is the aspect or difference that makes the artist or designer be theauthor of their work and the forger not being the author of it? Saying that theartist has accomplished more than the forger or to say that have completedsomething with more skill or of a higher difficulty level seems ridiculous, asthey have done the same thing. Howeverif there is a slight variation in what the forger has produced it could beviewed that the forger’s piece of work is harder than the original artists.This is due to the fact that they are not in fact the original artist, beingthe artist you have a set style that has developed over time and a forger ismerely trying to copy it and cannot actually be the artist.
Authorship can be seen in a different lightto different people, it is extremely subjective which makes it so hard todefine and outline the rules to it. In many cases it is stated that the readeror the viewer holds more responsibility and power than the author due to thecomplexity of the different experiences the author or creator puts into theirwork being unseen by the viewer, they see the work with a fresh mind and thuswhy authorship can be seen as unimportant. Whilst appropriation artists havebeen regularly seen as undermining the concept of artistic authorship they dosucceed in achieving something different. Because they decline the request oforiginality the appropriation artists are showing that originality for them issomewhat unnecessary and expendable.
At what point is appropriation art seen asforgery, they are showing that the need for originality in the art world todayis a pressure that is not needed and authorship is there to be questioned.