This week in Video & Sound we read and watched four pieces of media: Jonathan Lethem’s The Ecstacy of Influence: A Plagiarism; b) On the Rights of the Molotov Man: Appropriation and the Art of Context; c) Allergy to Originality and d) Kirby Ferguson’s Embrace the Remix. The common thread between them all is the idea that no art or work is truly original or creative, and that this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s inevitable, and it should be celebrated because we progress collectively through the efforts of the past.
Ferguson’s talk cites a quotation from Henry Ford: “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work.” And, as Lethem writes, “Finding one’s voice isn’t just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses.”
I agree with the sentiment that our culture stands on the ability to borrow and remix ideas, and that openly acknowledging our influences as artists or inventors is important. But I’m also sympathetic to the people whose work gets “stolen” as well. Ideally, we could live in a world where everyone openly admits to using other people’s work and happily allows anyone to use theirs as well. But because it’s so difficult for artists to make a living to begin with, our flawed copyright laws sometimes serve as the only kind of protection they have for their income. It’s hard to fault an artist for feeling protective in an imperfect system, which is why I found Susan Meiselas’s rebuttal sympathetic and a necessary perspective.