Appropriation, fan art, copyright infringement – call it what you want. Artists have been stealing other people’s ideas and calling it their own for decades. Banksy (who quoted from Picasso, who re-worded from T.S Elliot or was it Stravinsky…) is known to have a graffiti piece with the text:
“The bad artists imitate, the great artists steal”.
With Richard Prince’s art, many support this school of thought. As noted in Art or theft?... Prince’s Instagram portraits are a re-purposing of material, and similar to what artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein and Duchamp did before him.
Regardless of whether copyright infringement rules were broken or not, it’s Prince’s attitude that really needs questioning. Prince doesn’t see anything wrong with stealing others work, especially if no-one knows he is doing so. In the article Instagram rip-offs by Richard Prince… he states:
“…sometimes it’s better not to be successful and well known and you can get away with much more. I knew what I was stealing 30 years ago but it didn’t matter because no one cared, no one was paying any attention.”
The issue isn’t whether it’s a wealthy corporation such as Coke (#Coke ripped me off. #MakeItHappy), or an unknown artist (The Messy World of Fan Art and Copyright) doing so. It’s about not giving compensation, respect and recognition to the person that did the original work – that’s the issue.
So why isn’t anyone thinking of suing Richard Prince?
“… suing would actually play into Prince's own hands, making Prince "look like he’s thinking about rights in digital spaces, and that the work is questioning authorship in contemporary society."
Missy Suicide, as noted in Richard Prince v Suicide Girls in an Instagram price war, is using social media to create a bidding war over her images found in Prince’s show. She’s undercutting him by 99.9% off the original price, and selling the exact same print (and size) for $90.00 – quite the bargain!
As for Cody Foster and Co., the company that steals independent designers' work, illustrator Lisa Congdon has gone public on social media about how this company stole her designs. Using social media to publicise a company’s wrong-doings is quite effective. Bad publicity is what companies fear more than legal battles, since it’s bad for business and tough to survive.
With all the social media hype, it will be interesting to see how Richard Prince fares long after his Instagram Portrait show. If life imitates art and art imitates life – does that make Richard Prince a fake artist? Or is he a smart businessman in artist’s clothes?