Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Ecstasy of Influence

Here's the article The Ecstasy of Influence: a plagiarism by Jonathan Lethem that was published in Harpers magazine last year, which starts with this quote by English poet John Donne (1600's) from Meditation XVll
All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...


Annibal said...

Nice. This is way cool. I need to have my dad read this, actually, because I have gotten into many heated arguments with him over this sort of thing. He used to say that he knew I was smart when my brother would steal my toys and claim they were his, but I would say, no, they're mine, and bro would say, but I have them. And I would just say, but they're still mine. I think this applies here, too. If I wrote a song and someone remixed it, I would think, wow, someone liked my stuff enough to spend hours on making it into something new. If someone found one of my films or something and chopped it up into something new, I would love it! I would know that their base was something I had done, and it prompted such freedom of creatvity for someone. I just don't get someone publishing something and then forbidding others to USE it instead of just having it. Why put it out to the public at all if you don't want it to influence and touch people in some way? And if they express themselves by USING it, so what? Philosophically I just don't see what's wrong with it. Copyright law bothers me in so many different ways.

Josephine Noble said...

I think this article brings up a very important message that no one seems to really think about: the affects of technology on art. Due to its ability to duplicate just about anything, it loses the authenticity of the artwork itself. But can we see technology is a good or bad thing? From this article it seems as though you could pick from both sides. Being able to bring the music of Bach to Mozart to our own time can make us appreciate historical art. However, this being great for modern day artists, it can be seen as destructive to its originality. From this paper I had another interesting feel to it. Even though technology can duplicate and mix the initial feel from an artwork, the mass production of that product can affect the artist that plagiarized another’s artwork. Meaning, those that take other ideas and use them as their own can NOT be overlooked when such product is massively produced. Also, I would just like to point out a great quote that I enjoyed.

“When you live outside the law, you have to eliminate dishonest,” Don Siegel’s film noir The Lineup. What do you think Don Siegel meant by this statement?

Sarah M. said...

I'm in agreement with the author. If we think of how we get exposed to new music, it's more through word of mouth, friends. I've very rarely bought a CD that I just picked up and listened. I usually hear it perhaps hear it first from a friend, and go out and buy it. Where would we be if every little detail was protected? A hairbrush would have a copyright on it. I do agree though that artists should be respected, as most of us do spend a lot of time creating this things. But I wouldn't mind it at all if someone saw something of mine and shared it with a friend. I think that others need to understand that a duplicated cope is never the same as the original, and that ideas and concepts are for free, not the actual work. Unless that work is unowned, of course.

sam said...

I can see this argument in a few different lights. In our class there seems to be a sympathetic opinion towards the idea of using and reworking others projects (films specifically in our case) or at least we say that we would not mind, or even enjoy seeing someone reworking our material. I myself am of this same opinion, but there is a flipside as well. As student experimental filmmakers none of us are realistically expecting to go on and make living off of our work, and I think this is part of the reason we feel positively about the idea of others using our work. How nice would it be though, if you were lucky enough to have your work so highly appreciated, respected, and sought after that you made a living by doing what you were interested in. In this case in order to protect your lifestyle and income you might have to protect the work.

In regards to filmmaking, I found a couple terms and ideas to be very useful and inspiring. The first of the terms was “en-framing”. I think this is good term to use in discussions about found footage and the way it is used. Also there was the term “previously unknown public knowledge” – this basically came from the idea of using and comparing the vast array of already published scientific journals to come up with solutions to previously unsolved problems. I think this can be thought of in terms of filmmaking in an interesting way. The mountains of found footage out there substitute for our scientific journals, and by reworking and creating montage with these materials we are adding to the public knowledge of filmmakers and other audiences we may reach. We strive to make new and beautiful things, just by searching through and cross-referencing old materials.

Jay Tee said...

To piggy back off of Sam's first paragraph:

I agree that it seems like the general class tone toward work being used by other artists is "supportive" of this theroy. I don't necessarily think it has to do with money, but more the idea of my work being a part of, or referenced, in someone elses work, all for the greater good of art. Given that, I do think the lines of "copyright" do blur. I remember at one point a few years back, one was able to use appropriated material, conditional upon what percentage of the original piece had been changed. But then the question of the definition of the word "change" comes to mind.

Did some of the legendary entertainment that is referenced in the article for having "stolen" ideas from someone else think about questions such as these as they were ripping off other people's work? And given today's standard for copyright, it seems as if any enacted law against intellectual property would just be open to the appropriater's likely,very liberal, interpretation. As the world itself becomes Intellectual Property, it will become harder and harder to convince people to pay for something that isnt tangible.

Dee rock said...

I see this article in two different lights. Obviously the sharing of art and using preexisting art to create something new should be allowed in our society. This is what fuels new artwork and movement in different directions, but there is a need for some form of copyright. People can't just be copying work and selling it exactly how is for money because that does not create anything new at all or even spur ideas. That is just theft, so I think the elimination of all copyright is not pleadable. Some law has to remain, but the direction copyright needs to go is in allowing more fair use, or as Lethem explains it as, "second use."

My favorite part of the article was where he talked about the gift economy, and how giving a gift is different than selling something to someone because of the bond it establishes. It's a really good point to bring up because of the social aspect and how giving can contribute to the advancement of ideas and art.

lindsay said...

The article discusses several things that are very prevalent to our current media. THe first examplein the article that jumped out at me was the discussion of Bob Dylan. In direct correlation with the quote, there was recently made a film about his life which is several artists retelling of his story. They never say it is in fact Bob Dylan but just steal his story to tell another story. It is almost as if a plagiarism of his life.
I can see the prupose of the copyright law in order to protect the works of people from being stolen.and resold. But if an artist simply changes the meaning of the original artwork than it seems like it should be allowed.The only reason people seem to become upset over use of their work is when the other person makes money off of it. For example Disney, as the article outlines.
Recently I was discussing this with a friend and he said "There is nothing to do now that hasn't been done before." The only real options left in the art world is to change what we have seen before and give it new life. Every artist either directly or indirectly copies another work. When making a film they tend to copy a shot from another film or when painting the artist draws influence from a piece they saw in Art HIstory once upon a time. It should be acceptable to borrow or even steal ideas to create new ideas.

abbey said...

We all borrow from each other. One person's idea, piece of art, writing, music are produced for the showing (or sharing) of other people. After reading a novel, Nabovok created a similar (and popular) book: Lolita. Muddy Waters blues career was influenced by songs of Robert Johnson. Why is this okay? Because the outcome is so great. It adds to the genre. Although at least Waters admitted to Johnson's influence.
In a paragraph Lethem discusses how at 13 he began his love affair with the world of art and lit. Regarding Burroughs' method, Lethem found:
"Burroughs was interrogating the universe with scissors and paste pot."
"Interrogating the universe." Worth the repetition. Think about it. What is he saying by using this phrase?
I used to collect everything as a kid. My room growing up looked like a garage sale. I adored the fact that all of this crap that i had accumulated over time had significance. What sort of 'lives' had they had? Where had they been? And so on.
After the reading the article, I am left with reassurance in that we all do borrow from each other to enhance our own lives.

matthew.perino said...

nothing is original anymore. an idea can now be thought to be original but most likely already exists outside of the artists own awareness. I enjoy the idea of collage culture and appropriation of materials to 'make the familiar strange' as it was stated in the article. this relatively new philosophy on art stems from the ability to create it. Copyright laws still exist but are more irrelevant than ever. I can copy films, music, photography, speeches, television programs all with the aid of different technologies, limewire, mac the ripper, etc etc etc. In an era of possibility to refuse to create something from other sources and obey copyright laws is pathetic and breeds no progress in our culture. It is still an issue though financially because to behave in this artistic way prefaces the awareness that profiting from it are somewhat impossible. Regardless the appropriation of different mediums different contexts and different sources to create new meaning is something exciting and beautiful, and fresh. It is a new culture of art and a copyright infringement is only a formality that can and should be easily ignored.

kennedy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kennedy said...

to me, art that is created inevitably has connection to other things other people have done/made. sometimes these connections are obvious, other times not so much. none the less the connection are still there. if someone wishes to claim something as their own that no one else has ever done and has no connection to past works they are fooling themselves. if it wasn't for what came before there would be nothing to build off of. i think i agree with most of us when i say that i would see it more of an honer to have someone use my work in their own.
if your art represents an idea, how can you claim to own an idea? everything is connected, everything you create was influenced by other work and those works were influenced in the same way by countless others. i think people just need to chill out and realize we are all in it together and whats good for one and bad for another is not good for anyone at all. make it show, show it, see what happens. that all i have to say about that.

Rice said...

At this point, there’s not a lot more I can say about this article that hasn’t already been said.
However, I am interested in who among us has ever actually had an experience related to the issue of copyright/ intellectual property, or ownership.
I, personally, have had one that is still continuing to this day, involving the ownership of photographic negatives. Coming from this position, I have this to say…
I’m of the opinion that as soon as a work of art is created, the artist can no longer claim ownership over that work. The work is owned by everyone, and does not have any immediate value, except for the relationship it offers to the universe. I’ll admit that I still copyright every finished work that I create, but it’s not because I feel that I have ownership over that work, but rather because I want to establish a relationship with the universe through that artifact.
I don’t expect to make a living off my films, or my photography, but rather I expect my works to open up new opportunities and relationships with the universe from which I will be granted my living artistry. Because of this, I’ve never actually made any money off of my artwork itself, because I’ve never charged anyone for my artwork. However, I have had people pay me out of respect for my artistry. The point is that a work of art doesn’t retain value, because it is a tangible and reproducible item, and there’s nothing an artist can do to defer this fact. But the artist is not tangible and cannot be reproduced, and therefore, they retain all value without argument.

jeanli said...

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful comments on the article. Good thinking!
Many diverse points were made and here's just a few things which came to mind:
---So Abby pulled the quote 'interrogating the universe' I decided to google it and see what happened. I got a lot of hits referring back to Lethem's article of course, but I was also sent to quite a few scientific/cosmic websites, a well as a few religious ones. The best in the bunch however was from Wired magazine's REMIX PLANET, an article by cyber-punk author William Gibson called "God's Little Toys: confessions of a cut-and-paste artist", quite good, and I quote,
"Our culture no longer bothers to use words like *appropriation* or *borrowing* to describe those very activities. Today's audience isn't listening at all - it's participating. Indeed, *audience* is as antique a term as *record*, the one archaically passive, the other archaically physical…. The remix is the very nature of the digital." WG
(full story here)

--Sam and Jojo both rightly raised the question of technology's relationship to property and use, which was also part of what Walter Benjamin had in mind in his 1936 seminal text The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, full text here

SAm also pulled the idea of 'enframing' from Lethem's article and I thought to point out that this is a reference to the philosopher Martin Heidegger, from a 1954 text called 'The Question Concerning Technology', which people have been reading again lately as we seek insights into the relationships between technology, teh world, and ourselves, see entry here:

--Sarah, that hairbrush copyright idea might have legs...and the question for Sarah and Matthew and Kennedy h is--Is there such a thing as An Original? Examples? Is there such a thing as a new idea? Examples?

--JT brings up the old 'percentage' idea, a precursor to fair use practices. The law is there to protect property after all , so we are asking ourselves if our ideas are our property and to what degree if it is indeed measurable, and the answer keeps changing. DeeRock's attracted to the social idea of the gift economy, as in how to solve the problem of exchange value when it comes to intellectual property,
as in Lewis Hyde's book 1983 The Gift

Keeping up with the contemporary conversation which encompasses a multitude of subjectivities can be difficult, but The Center for Social media does a pretty good job. Their term is "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use" and you can find that here

Scroll down to a particularly relevant article called
which deals with artist's practices

--I love how Lindsay used Todd Haynes "I'm Not There" as an example! Haynes himself spent quite a bit of time attempting to contact Dylan because he knew he would need his permission (Haynes having had major problems with such things before, see Superstar
This Wikipedia citation is weak so maybe someone can do some research adn add to it!)
Anyway, apparently Dylan and his people looked at Hayne's other work and agreed to it because they thought he was an interesting artist. At least that's what Haynes reported at his press conference at the premiere at the New York Film Festival.

--Lastly, it seems that nearly everyone said they would be honored to have some anonymous person utilize their creations to new and unknown ends. Has this ever happened to you? How did you feel about it? Would it matter if that person asked your permission/blessing first? How could that change the nature of the exchange? Does it matter if you intentionally set out to share, or do you think is it commonly understood that once you put something out into the world (read:online) that it is up for grabs?

Thanks for participating!

Annibal said...

I have had people use some of my artwork--I have a deviantart page, and some people have drawn their own versions of my fictional characters and made up weirdness. In mainstream, "fanart" and "fanfiction" and things like that are not allowed--no reproduction of blah blah blah, but really, someone thought my stuff was cool enough to recreate. They used my ideas to better their own art by actually making more. I don't need them to even tell me. It'd be nice, but it's also nice to google your name and have things that people have used from you. I dunno, I guess I'm communistic with my stuff. If I'm putting out there for everyone to see, then I'm putting it out there for them to use. Even if they don't take from it directly, maybe it will influence. I wouldn't WANT to stop that. I love seeing it.

If people don't want others to use their stuff, to be effected by it and recycle it, they should keep it to themselves. That means you, corporately distributed pseudo artistic Hollywood. I see you over there, with your fancy pants MONEY and PROFIT.

Brian swenson said...

when it comes to copyright issues and laws, it is all about the property of someone else, whethere it be intellectual property or physical property. they are set in place to PROTECT YOU???? ME?????
to stop someone else from stealing your own original idea? your own original invention? That is where i i get confused, because laws are all about wording (how they are written down), and there are always ways around it. how can something be ORIGINAL, especially in a post-modern era. we are influenced by everything we see, touch, hear, think or do; whethere we acknowledge if or not. everything you have ever done, seen or heard is in the back of your brain somewhere taking up a little piece of neural capacity (not to say that your brain is filling up, but every face you have ever seen takes up one brain cell, every song, every T.V. show, every film, every random, trivial fact takes up space.
So, even sitting here typing these thoughts out on a computer as 'my' thoughts, they are not orginal, they can only be modified/representations of other ideas and concepts i have somewhere heard before. which brings me to plagarism, how can it be plagarism if i take something word for word off an internet site and put it in a paper, but if i change around two words or put it in 'my own' words then it becomes ok?????
and if they aren't my words, they certaintly are not that specific sites words, they are not even the original authors words, they are a representation of an idea that, that author came up with, not on his own, but with the influence of all his accumulated experiences.
how can i claim this??, well i re-iterate I am inspired/influenced by everything that what I see, hear and touch.......
i am influenced by my culture!
what is culture? culture is art!
what is ART?????
who be cont'd

Annibal said...

Brian: word.

zac rice said...

"Left to its own devices, research tends to become more specialized and abstracted from the real-world problems that motivated it and to which it remains relevant. This suggests that such a problem may be tackled effectively not by commissioning more research but by assuming that most or all of the solution can already be found in various scientific journals, waiting to be assembled by someone willing to read across specialties."

Technology and entertainment have become specialized formats to be sold to existing markets already. Its only that one specialization that it being bought for as well. For instance a Michael Bay movie or Call of Duty both sell explosions and action and disregard everything else.

Can we even be sure if we are have amassed a project that is new or are all projects just a specialized idea of someone else's?