Harpers is one of my favorite magazines and a couple of months back I had the good fortune to run into some writing that resonated with the way I approach ideas for my paintings. The case concerns artist Joy Garnett of the ‘Molotov Man‘ fame. She is an artist who uses ‘found’ online imagery in the creation of her art and knowingly subverts photographs and images found on the web to suit the message that she would like to propound in her paintings. In her own words..

“I searched the web for images of figures in extreme emotional or physical states. I saved the most promising images in folders on my computer desktop, and I let them sit for a while so I could forget where I found them. I wanted my choices to be based more on aesthetic criteria than on my emotional attachment to their narratives. Eventually I would look through the folders again to see what struck me…”

To make a long story short, she was initially told by a lawyer representing the author of an image she used (Susan Meiselas shot one of the iconic images that Joy Garnett later painted) to secure permission before using the image. Naturally, Joy did not think it necessary to go through these motions as she had created ‘original’ artwork using the image as a springboard… and posted her predicament to Rhizome.org. The bloggers on Rhizome ran with it and produced hundreds of subversions of the original image challenging the lawyer to prosecute all of them.. The lawyers withdrew on seeing the shaky nature of their case in prosecuting Joy Garnett. You can read multiple points of view in two essays from Harpers hyperlinked at the bottom of this post…
 molotovman_susan-meiselas.JPG Susan Meiselas “untitled” 1979 Color photograph
 molotovman_joy-garnett.JPG Joy Garnett “Molotov” 2003 Oil on canvas 70 x 60 inches

My technique is to paint from photographs. Every once in a while when I explore an idea, I tend to go to the web and download compelling images from the web to act as a spark that will lead to the creation of a painting. In my view I am engaging in a dialogue with art that already exists out there and in the eventual subversion of the original image in my painting, I am merely enriching existing art. I sometimes acknowledge the source and sometimes bother not to (especially if I do not find it on the web – I do not go crazy trying to find the source)…  I do not regard this as plagiarism, but some people do…

How many times have you directly used images from the web in the creation of your art? How many times have you used web based images indirectly (as a spark generator and incubator) for an idea that you then use to create your art? If the former case is dubbed plagiarism by some people, then the latter case also should be… What are your views?
Like someone said, the cross pollination and extension of existing ideas is critical to human creativity, be it art science or commerce.


On the rights of the Molotov Man – article by Joy G. and Susan M. in Harpers

The ecstasy of influence – an invigorating essay by Jonathan Lethem