Wolstenhol’s been making these bracelets since 1994, and Hirst started his original bracelets a decade later.

Hirst is being sued again for plagiarism, and that’s about as damaging to his career as election fraud and voter suppression in California is to Hillary Clinton’s – just something to be accepted and brushed off. Hirst has been sued before, and gotten away with it before, never losing the adulation of the art world as one of its most outstanding innovators. Does anyone even mind if “appropriation” has slipped into “plagiarism”?  It’s kind of like telling a child that the candy she just savored was actually her flu medicine. It’s too late to do anything about it, we’ve already accepted and ingested it.

Damien Hirst Hymn, 1999 – 2005 (painted bronze). Inset: Humbrol’s anatomical model. Hirst was sued for copyright infringement for making an exact replica of the manufacturer’s educational toy.

The particulars of the lawsuit don’t interest me. Colleen Wolstenhol has a copyright on her design and wants Hirst to stop selling his radically innovative high art versions, and hand over the profits he’s made on her design. Incidentally, her charm bracelets sell for $1,000 to $3,500, and his go for $15,000 to $35,000.

I’m more interested in what this says about the artist and the official “art world”. I put “art world” in quotes because, well, as far as the art world is concerned (what you are reading doesn’t matter), I don’t exist, and yet I keep producing art. There are so many artists who are invisible and inconsequential to the official art world, meaning that art is enjoyed, produced, discussed and debated in a much greater arena than just the visible blue chip galleries, their products, their celebrities, their parties, their openings, and their scandals.

Hirst, like Koons, is so well known for plagiarism, and rarely does work that is not a form of “appropriation” to begin with, that I seriously doubt he didn’t intentionally lift the design of an artist few have every heard of.

I have to ask if it even matters that it’s plagiarism, except in legal terms. Appropriation, as far as I’m concerned, lost its edge decades ago. Once you understand the concept of appropriation (re-contextualizing something in a fine art context), it isn’t that interesting or challenging WHICH thing is next taken from popular or plebeian culture and put on a proverbial pedestal in a gallery or museum. Duchamp appropriated everyday utilitarian objects; Warhol appropriated commercial design and production  techniques; and Koons appropriated kitsch… Woo-hoo.

Why not just appropriate a lesser known artist’s work? Change the material, say, from silver to gold, and turn it to gold with the Midas Touch.  How different is it from Google buying Twitter?

The most important factor for art world success is celebrity, branding, visibility, accolades, and some sort of spurious jargon to justify the art’s seminal place in art history.

By me, plagiarizing someone else’s art is a sure sign of creative bankruptcy.  However, that doesn’t really matter in the art world, because creative bankruptcy is seen as a radical stance to occupy, and even an inevitability, in which case appropriation and outright theft are signs of  intellectual virility. It’s a dog eat dog world, and thus an artist eat artist one. May the most famous artist win.

[Note that dogs don’t really eat dogs, and panda’s eat bamboo. Also, we humans are as capable as ever of coming up with original ideas and original art, and perhaps more so.]

~ Ends

5 replies on “The Thin Gold Line Between Radical Art Appropriation and Hackneyed Plagiarism.

      1. Oh, right, I see what you are saying. You are talking about a a forum for art criticism. I thought you were talking about a show for my art. A lot of people seem to like my art criticism, or find it interesting or relevant, and more so than my art. But, for me, art criticism is mostly fairly academic writing, with some personal anecdotes, hyperbole, and perhaps a little bit of flair thrown in. But art is chasing after the transcendent, or the unknown, or perhaps just what’s around the next corner or under the next rock. Art for me is discovery, and a sort of psychological, or even spiritual journey, and I’m going in a direction only I can really go in, and I hope to bring back souvenirs, so to speak. So, I rather think I should be doing more art and less opining.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I see what you’re saying. I just think you could do an entertaining show, I think it would be popular, but just because you would be good at doesn’t mean you need to do it 😉 Definitely do what makes you happy.


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