An interesting debate has been provoked by Shia LaBeouf around Plagiarism and Appropriation. In film, literature, music, design, etc, the use of elements from someone’s work is seen as theft, but is this only because we live in a capitalist society, where the original creator feels like a they are missing out on a revenue stream, when in truth they are probably gaining one? In the art world, where the majority of practice has very little financial reward, appropriation is common place, and seen in a completely different light.
Whilst watching the Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony , a commentator said ‘Well the Russians may have named the television, but a Scotsman invented it.’ This theory of ownership that seems prominent in society today misses the point that it takes a number of people to create a finalised version of one thing, from invention, to branding, to marketing, to putting the right pieces together in the right order.
Michelangelo may have engineered the High Renaissance but if others had not appropriated his style, would he be revered in the way he currently is? The Rolling Stones first two albums were made up of tracks written by musicians in America, a choice made for two reasons, one because the music was amazing, and two because that world was alien to British culture at the time and provided them a unique, yet entirely appropriated sound. Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs has been called a ‘scene-for-scene’ rip off of Ringo Lam’s City On Fire, yet it is still a masterful work of cinema that introduced him into our collective consciousness.
Whilst LaBeouf sits in a gallery appropriating Marina Abramovic and Bas Jan Ader, something the press seem to be glossing over in favour of his stolen phrases from Eric Cantona, we should recognise that had he not been so passionate about making something of his own and absorbing his influences, for a short film that would raise no financial revenue whatsoever – let alone recall its budget, some would have had no idea who Daniel Clowes was. His world has never seen the need to cross with mine before. It has now, and I am beginning to quite like his work. I am sure I am not the only one.