A whole area of post-modernist art making is lumped under the heading of appropriation. To escape the retribution earned by this crime, artworks have to be titled Homage to whomever the artist is quoting.

In the mid 1970’s, I was completing a Bachelor of Arts degree  at Macquarie University, North Ryde, Sydney. At the time I was writing poetry, under the influence of the contemporary greats: Dylan Thomas, TS Eliot, and the metaphysical poets of a previous era, Donne and Herbert, who practised a dense constellation of multi-layered, many meaninged imagery. I approached a woman novelist and asked her to read my poems; instead of doing so, she parked them with a young tutor in the department who cheekily wrote a series of works by combining obscure fragments of the work of others. These he produced in tutorials alongside my work: the intention was to expose pretentious imagery. The ethical question is: what ranks worse as art; poems that unconsciously echo other poets, or deliberately confected work. The question is even more urgent today. Bricolage is accepted practice, appropriation has political rightness, and many contemporary poets have constructed entire oeuvres from the fragments of others. An Australian poet was even granted two lots of OzCo aid amounting to $30 thousand, and later it was found that his work was entirely collaged.

When an artist of the stature of Picasso spends his final years painting versions of Goya, Manet, Velasquez, it is to be expected that younger artists will also collage. That a senior artist is summing up his lifetime’s achievement by these homages to past works is a point which escapes the attention of the young. Again, which is worse, deliberately to appropriate and quote and collage, or to be so influenced by a powerful, surrealist, non-rational style that originality becomes impossible, and imitation inevitable?

About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
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