Is Appropriation Appropriate?

Appropriation in art is using pre-existing objects or images with little to no modification applied to them. It is the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of pre-existing images. When an artist appropriates images, it can result in copyright issues. One famous example is Andy Warhol, the artist behind the Campbell’s Soup

"Campbell's Soup Cans" by Andy Warhol
“Campbell’s Soup Cans” by Andy Warhol

painting campaign. Warhol appropriated the image and brand, Campbell’s. However, these famous canned paintings have seemed to be non-infringing despite being taken from an already existing image. The soup company may have decided not to say anything because it was free publicity.

Artists appropriate imagery all the time and many do not get in trouble for it. There are myths in the art world that state that if you appropriate less than 40% of your art piece, you cannot be sued; this is not true at all. Many artists appropriate and do not get in trouble because the appropriated imagery is buried beneath modified material.

“Drowning Girl” by Roy Lichtenstein

In the comic world, likely the most famous artist known for appropriating is Roy Lichtenstein. His famous piece, “Drowning Girl,” which is on display at MOMA, is a single panel painted in oil and synthetic polymer on canvas that is an image from a 1962 DC Comics panel. The art had a simple color scheme and commercial printing techniques. The comic was called “Run for Love!” and was illustrated by Tony Abruzzo and lettered by Ira Schnapp. This original panel was depicting a wave over a girl and was borrowed from the even more classic, “Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Hokusai. “Drowning Girl” is one of the pop art movement’s most iconic pieces, and yet it was simple copied and enlarged by hand from an old comic book.

“Run for Love” original comic

Not only did the comic, “Run for Love!” appropriate an old image, it was then appropriated by another artist. In the art world, it is very common for work to be appropriated and to never know about the original inspiration until researched thoroughly. In an academic setting, appropriation would be best described as copying, and at UMW could earn you a visit to the Honor Council. So the question begs to be asked, why is appropriation so accepted in the art world? There might not be a defined answer, but when appropriating in your next comic, if you’re worried about copyright issues make sure to add the original works cited nearby.