Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rip-off Artist Redux

"The basic story line is about art leaving the realm of the artist, when the artist loses control of the work." - Jeff Koons

Noli Novak, the creator of painstakingly detailed stipple drawings that have run in the Wall Street Journal for over twenty years, is charging artist Jose Maria Cano with shamelessly ripping off her images for use in his critically acclaimed wax on canvas works. She's not seeking monetary compensation, just all credit where credit's due. Novak is part of an official group that produces the stippled drawings know collectively as Hedcuts:

"Kevin Sprouls, the first artist at The Journal, introduced these distinctive illustrations to The Wall Street Journal in 1979. Today, there are 5 full time artist and a number of free-lance illustrators." - WSJ

Came across this story posted on the Daily Cartoonist blog, and on TechDirt as well, and it seems to inflame opinion to both extremes. It's a very interesting collision between many confusing issues in copyright and the artsy-fartsy world: "Fair use" versus derivative versus transformative versus appropriation versus plagiarism.
The legality is a separate issue from the ethics; as a work-for-hire employee of the Wall Street Journal, Novak assumably doesn't have any control or claim to her work. Additionally, it seems from perusing the comment thread on the "original" artist's blog, the outrage petered out after many repeated queries as to where the source material that she uses to in turn create her drawings came from, as in based on a photograph.
Regardless of the laborious craftsmanship that goes into the creation of Cano's pieces, it's been done before, and better, and it's still conceptually unimaginative and aesthetically tired. In my opinion, as far as unique and creative images go, I would actually rate both about the same.
It's a constant puzzle to me, this overlap between ideas of originality and the gray area where inspiration crosses the line and becomes imitative or at the worst, moral theft. This is a quandary I explore in my own classes with the themes of transformative appropriation, which gives us a chance to debate what's "right" as opposed to what's technically legal. And as I've mentioned before here, there's always the humbling admission that influences and the occasional unconscious homage will sneak into one's works.
Good fodder for discussion in the classroom and in the studio, although it's more likely the final say will be had in the courtroom by lawyers instead of artists.

"Most art is just surface noise." - Darby Bannard

1 comment:

  1. Poor Obama's been the center of a lot of art controversy lately--not sure if you heard about it or not, but the iconic Hope posters of Obama were based on a different image than the artist claims, and it could fall outside of fair use (hence why he falsified and claimed it was the other image and deleted files and such).

    I give my respect to Novak, though, for only seeking credit. Whether her claim has merit or not, I am glad to see she's not after the cash.