- In the light of the two texts on authorship, I made the following observations on two works, by Sherry Levins and Cindy Sherman.
Fig. 1 Crystal Skull_(2011).
- Cast-crystal skulls in vitrines are part of Levine’s show at the Whitney Museum of American Art (Fig. 1)
- Sherrie Levine is famous for appropriating others’ work
- See also assignment 2-my annotation of ‘After Walker Evans’
- What of this work?
- Skulls are quite common in art so it’s not immediately obvious if there is an ‘original’ here eg….Vanitas paintings, mask like primitive African Art, but Damien Hirsts diamond encrusted skulls was a very famous contemporary example of its use (he also uses Vitrines a lot) .
- One consequence of ‘the death of the author’ is that one can be more creative about one’s thoughts about a work of art- one is not anxiously thinking ‘I wonder what Dr X said that this painting means…’ or similarly ‘I wonder what the artist really meant ?’…..it really gets you thinking- not regurgitating text from ‘experts’ in a book or on the internet !
- This feels very powerful and empowering. It seems to allow us to reduce the effect of that ‘…Ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning’ (Foucalt, 2003). It’s the same idea as Berger’s complaint about the stuffy detached analysis of two Franz Hal’s paintings which ‘transfers the emotion provoked by the object from the plane of lived experience, to that of disinterested ‘art appreciation’ (Berger, 1972:13).
- In relation to Brit pop artist Damien Hirst, the use of a skull and glass vitrine may draw attention to aspects of his art- this skull is less bling, less ‘valuable’ in terms of materials? (and in terms of market value?). Perhaps Levine thinks Damien Hirst’s skull (and perhaps the artist) is overrated, overpriced, and over hyped?
Fig. 2 Untitled #223. 1990
- This looks like a Renaissance picture of Maddona and child (the symbology)
- The background looks Dutch- flowers resemble the Dutch realist’s trompe d’oleil style, which developed alongside the initial development of a well-to-do middle class in Europe.
- Is the idea of Madonna and child an ‘authored original’? No it’s a reworking of Biblical characters. Though much scholarship is invested in deciding what is part of the bible and what is not, the characters in the bible are not controlled and copyrighted like contemporary symbols such as Mcdonalds golden arches. or the coke bottle (though Iconoclasm in various times and by various groups, destroyed religious images thinking them ungodly- ‘Thou shalt not worship a graven image’, )
- The artists painted them at a time when the ideology of authorship was less important, but symbology and reverence to God was more important.
- Hundreds of artists have painted this subject…… Duccio, Sano di Pietro (c 1300) Sassoferrato (17th C), Marco Basaiti c 1510), Giovanni Bellini, c. 1500
- Could this photograph have a feminist discourse?- we see a false breast, and a removal of overtly sexual organs like breasts?
- That the idea of an ‘accepted’ image of any woman is damaging to ‘real women’?
- That the immaculate conception (The virgin Mary) is damaging to ‘real women’ ?
- Her hair garment resembles a Dutch Vermeer sitter , but is the garment Scottish tartan- if so what does it symbolise? Is it irony about the nationality of the Virgin Mary ? perhaps the artist believes that Mary is no more from Nazareth as from the Scottish Highlands? Indeed perhaps she does nt exist at all????
- Is the baby anatomically normal- ? the feet look a little flat and forward- like an animal? The right foot looks like it’s webbed ? What could this mean?? Is this a discourse against ‘perfection’ which could be a feminist/ disabled rights discourse?
- The breasts are not obvious –no flesh is seen- in fact the chest seems rather flat-
- Except a false boob is being sucked by the baby. What does this mean? False boobs are commonly bought by women who are unhappy with their body image ( a feminist symbol?) , they can be used by women who have had breast disease ( a symbol of courage over disability?), and they are FALSE- perhaps the story of Jesus is false and is an IDEOLOGY
- Perhaps the perfect woman is an ideology?
- As usual Sherman puts herself in the image to reinforce that it is a modern appropriation of a text
2. If the birth of the reader is at the expense of the author is there still any of Benjamin’s ‘aura’ left?
Benjamin’s text on the original and the reproduction centres around visual images, and the effects of reproduction on the original. In relation to the original alongside a mechanical reproduction ‘the quality of its presence is always depreciated’ what is lost being the aura. Benjamin states that reproduction both ‘detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition’, and reactivates each copy ‘shattering’ tradition (Benjamin, 1999:74). When we ponder the more general case of loss of authorship- eg in relation to ideas, such as those in written or visual texts, I think it is useful to remember that Benjamin also distinguishes between technical and manual reproductions.
I believe that appropriation of ideas is analogous to the reproduction of an image as described by Benjamin. To see an exact authored text is like the case of technical reproduction (the text technically and accurately reproduces the author’s ideas). To appropriate the text for oneself (to use it to continue meaning-making) is like Benjamin’s reactivation of the exact copy, which involves a little loss of aura but allows a meaningful and powerful creative process to continue. However, the product of one’s appropriation of the original text (in idea or written as text) is akin to the process of manual reproduction- it’s not identical to the original-it involves a human process….- it may be inferior or indeed superior. If the original is of good quality it’s more likely (on balance ) that the next appropriation will tend towards the mean- and be slightly lower quality. In this way we lose some aura of the original each time it’s appropriated. Meaning therefore evolves with the diminishing of aura, and quality may either increase or decrease (based on either a single appropriation, or an overall collective appropriation).
3. Does any of this explain or validate the unregulated nature of the internet?
The internet basically allows any connected person to see other people’s texts (in the broadest sense). It’s in the nature of man to use these and to appropriate ideas and to republish them online, and the shear amount of ideas is impossible to regulate completely (even though most (all?) of these avenues do require a person to attach an identity to the idea however). It’s the shear size of the population of internet surfers, augmented by the ease and speed of appropriation which explains why the internet of ideas too large to regulate.
As for validation of unregulation, I see two sides. Lack of regulation allows plenty of what an evolutionary biologist would call ‘hybrid vigour’- lots of appropriations between lots of different people. This is generally likely to be good for the production of interesting and good ideas. However not all individuals are making quality contributions, and some are downright socially un acceptable, corrupt, criminal, or unpleasant- there is no ‘survival of the fittest on the internet- everyone survives and all ideas remain).
If we consider that we must take the rough with the smooth on an unregulated internet, then great ideas flow, and some people are hurt which is acceptable to us as a net product. This is my belief. If we consider the negatives outweigh the positives, then we introduce regulation (impossible completely anyway), which stifles free speech and ideas, and reduces both the net good and the net bad !
4. Does this invalidate the interest in the artist’s or creator’s intent at the time of making?
I would tend towards a common sense approach. It seems silly to disregard an author’s intent or circumstances (see also my BLOG entry Epilogue-some worries about structuralism) . This includes his name- because one way or another quality authors who write, paint etc for a living need to be remunerated- or they will starve and their ideas will stop! But reducing the element of authenticity in authorship will allow ideas to flow more freely. We can appropriate them ourselves and make them what we want (equivalent to Benjamin’s manual reproduction). We will still want to read, and view original works and ideas from truly great minds (technically reproduced for us) – Shakespeare, James Joyce, Rembrandt, and the like.
Fig. 1 Levine, S. Crystal Skull (2011) [Cast glass] online at http://whitney.org/WatchAndListen/764 [accessed 8 June 2017]
Fig. 2 Sherman, C Untitled #223. (1990) [Chromogenic color print] online at https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2012/cindysherman/gallery/7/#/9/untitled-223-1990/ [accessed 8 June 2017]
Benjamin, W.(1999) ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications. p. 72-8
Berger, J (1972) ‘Chapter 1’ in Ways of Seeing. Great Britain, Penguin. p. 7-34
Foucalt, M. (2003) . ‘What is an author’ 1969 In Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 949-953