Thursday, May 06, 2010

So Sue Me

This whole intellectual property thing is interesting, isn't it? (And, really, don't sue me. Please. I can't stand the paper waste lawsuits cause.)

Yesterday I talked about all the ownership problems with my reflection photos. Today, let's talk about an artist poet named Austin Kleon. He makes poems by redacting articles from The New York Times. He has published a book (Harper Perennial) of these poems. It's a fun book and it addresses the ownership of ideas in a couple of ways. First it's clear, of course, that the articles, word for word belong to the NY Times. But redacted to words and letters? Well, they don't really own them, do they? Second, he addresses all the accusations about his 'idea' of selecting words from newspapers for art not being 'original' by talking about similar ideas he found with research. So, go buy Austin's fun little book and enjoy some poems. Make some yourself even. He encourages that, too.

And now I'll steal his idea and talk a little bit about how that felt. Here's my first effort:This came from an NY Times obituary. If you like poems about death (or marriage and children) I would recommend using obits. I learned a couple of things doing this one. First, I was tempted to destroy it by simply blacking out every word. (Sort of the blank page poem equivalent of wadding up the paper and tossing it toward the trash can or deleting your file on the computer.) Second, I learned that although the page was full of words, I didn't want to use most of them. I found the blacking tedious at first and then sort of satisfying.

This is my second effort:
I clipped the crossword from The New York Times Digest that I receive on my computer each day. (I print the puzzle sometimes instead of doing it in the actual paper, which I also receive.)

I had worked the crossword. I wish I printed 'SANE' and 'JOVIAL' a little neater. But so it goes. I didn't get the idea to use the puzzle until after I'd been scribbling the answers in while sitting at a lunch counter eating hash browns and a sausage wrap. I didn't get any ketchup on the paper or that could have been part of the charm. I managed to sign this terse work by selecting my initials, conveniently arranged in yesterday's answer.

Is this art? Did I rip it off from Austin K.? First, yes, it is art. But, I'm thinking not great art. I didn't sense in myself the enthusiasm for the medium and the joy in the result that would make me defend it as my art. I must say I had a great time trying it out, though. You should try it. Or, you know, take a shop window reflection self portrait. It's fun to try stuff others suggest. It's much easier, in this case, to defend Austin's efforts as art. Is this just because I started with his technique? No. I simply haven't selected a technique which gives me the satisfaction of, say, collage or reflection photos. Those techniques are ripped off from practitioners aplenty, too. If you doubt this, type 'shop window reflections' into Google Images or study any modern street photographer. But I find myself expressing something with them that is deeply felt, like art is supposed to be, and unique to me, ditto. I freely admit their reductive nature. All art is reductive. Even the abstract painter uses shapes and colors that recall something else.

So what are we to think about the issues of art vs. not art and originality vs. plagiarism? I say we make what we respond to most deeply, that we look at and buy what moves us, that we listen to ourselves not the critics and, you know, wait to get sued. It's a litigious society, you know.


Jerry in, of, and around Dallas said...

Very thoughtful. I've always considered all art to be derivative, that is, descended somewhat by bits and pieces from previous efforts by other artists, no matter the media worked in. For example, some of Picasso's work derive from Africa, reworked in different media with some original ideas added. This is just off the top of my head.

Linda Ball said...

Exactly. And Picasso used collage at points. Used newspapers if I recall. Raising the very issues here.

Annie in Austin said...

Never thought you were crazy and am glad you are still here, Linda. What you do has always seemed like art to me.

I desperately try to make my songs as original as possible but guess it's impossible to erase half-a-century of listening to music by other people.

Austin's poems are fascinating - it's been fun to follow his blog and tweets - maybe I'll follow your lead and swipe the newspaper after Philo fills in the crossword...thus adding another layer of derivation by not writing in the squares myself.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose