I have been thinking about recent developments in art lately, especially in a digital culture where images are freely accessible. One such contemporary practice that is magnified exponentially in a digital world is Appropriation; a term that signifies a kind of borrowing or quoting from cultures outside one’s own, either visual culture or actual cultures or societies of which the appropriating artist does not belong. It seems benign enough until we begin to parse the term further. In the earlier part of the 20th century, as we have seen, artists from the dominant culture freely “appropriated” images and symbols from other more “primitive” (non-western) cultures in ways that, in retrospect, raise ethical questions.

The writer Nicholas Thomas notes:

The European modernists generally used whichever Oceanic or African elements interested them, evoking the primitive unspecifically, and usually without specific acknowledgement in their works’ titles. Hence viewers of primitivist works might be aware of the general stimulus of tribal art, but would have little idea which aspects of paintings were stimulated by indigenous examples; nor would they know which regions those examples came from, unless they were told.

We are artists, yes, but In a digital world where all is seemingly free for the taking, all works of art have provenance… it is our responsibility to the thoughtful consumers of culture and to give credit when and where it is due.

Enjoy the fall!
Douglas Rosenberg
Chair, Art Department