The author’. Barthes believes that the author is

The relationship
of Authorship and Appropriation within Graphic Design

 

Any form of graphic design or art format is going to be
judged and critiqued by its reader in response to both the content and the
author. An early interpretation of the ‘author’ simply denotes to ‘the person
who originates or gives existence to anything’ by means of all the forms of
communication existing writers, designers, photographers, and illustrators.

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‘Authorship’ can be seen as ‘the state or fact of being the writer of a
book, article, or document or the creator of a work of art’. This essay will
shed light on how authorship is viewed in graphic design and how that has affected
the way design is seen and produced. Appropriation art goes hand in hand with
authorship; this essay explores how the two aspects relate to each other. The
Tate defines appropriation as ‘Appropriation
in art and art history refers to the practice of artists using pre-existing
objects or images in their art with little transformation of the original’. Whilst explaining
and drawing upon appropriation, writers such as Barthes and Foucault to look at
different opinions on the subject of authorship. 

Authorship is generally a very modern
problem; it has a sense of importance to it, which is the reason it became such
a big obsession during the 20th century. 
M.Rock says “the question of how designers become authors is a difficult
one… exactly who qualifies and what authored design might look like” authorship
and what creates it is a tough concept to pinpoint because it is subjective to
many people. M. Foucault stated that the concept of the ‘author’ is socially
established. He drew attention to the fact that a culture where a conversation
would be passed around without stating the author is a culture in which it did
not matter who was speaking it only mattered about the conversation, which in
this case would be art. However, R. Barthes went further by announcing the
‘death of the author’. Barthes believes that the author is not really the
author, but is somewhat the ‘scripture’ that is there to plainly piece together
pre-existing texts that they have become aware of. Barthes argues that
everything has meaning, which is derived from earlier cultures.

 

W.K. Wimsatt, Jr.,
and Monroe C. Beardsley, in ‘The Intentional Fallacy’, agrees
with Barthes when he argues that everything has meaning. However they attribute
the happenings within the work, and their meanings, to that of the speaker or
reader and not that of the author. It is said that a writer or artist’s
intentions cannot be the standard or criterion to judge the merit of the work
at hand. They believe that we look at art to see how it relates to our lives at
that given time. For example, if we see a piece of design once and then again
twenty years later, the design work is still the exact same however the way we
perceive or judge it could be completely different. It is stated that “a work
belongs to neither the artist or the critic, but instead, to the public” from
this they were trying to put forward the idea that the work of art offers
meaning to a wide spectrum of readers, all who interpret it differently.

Showing that the authorship belongs to the public because if you are at a
gallery you can only interpret what you can see, knowing that you can not ask
the artist who created it about their intentions to do with that piece of
design you are viewing.

 

In relation to a graphic designer,
ownership, and authority are granted to them at the expense of a viewer thus
meaning that designers were heading more toward a textual position where it was
easier for them to state some level of authorship to their work. It is not
always the case that the name attached to the piece of work is the sole
designer of that piece; the most design is created in a collaborative setting.

A clear example of this would be the client-designer relationship or the
creation of the work in a design studio. However, the name attached to the
piece of work, for example, Andy Warhol is often there to direct other creative
people to work in the style that he sets out for them. This is where to
question of authorship can be seen as blurred. 

 

What makes the work of a designer really
theirs? In the 21st century, it is questioned whether any design can be truly
original, as some part of a design, even if it is small, it has probably been
based on something pre-existing, most likely without the designer realising.

Aware of this how is a designer to know when to claim authorship over their
work if it is always being questioned about the true originality of where their
ideas and designs came from. Some of the most recent upcoming and famous
designers are basing their designs and art on reproducing existing art. The
main issue with this, however, is when does this remaking of art turn into
forgery and where is the line drawn? This can be seen as appropriation in art.

 

Appropriation is not a method that has just
come around; it has been a permitted statement for over a century. Authorship
and appropriation are two aspects that have continually been related to each other.  MoMA defined appropriation as the
‘international borrowing, copying and alteration of pre-existing images and
objects’. The 1960’s was when appropriation artists plainly designed copies of
work by other artists with very small amounts of manipulation or modification.

Appropriation became a more well-known and common strategy in the 1980’s when
it was mentioned in relation to artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy
Warhol. This was the period where a lot of iconic pieces of art were created as
these artists appropriated images from pop culture and commercial art, which
was prominent in the general publics eyes thus giving them more popularity. The
work of these appropriation artists can be seen to back up Barthes’ initial
idea of the ‘death of the author’ due to the fact that the artists are
extracting pieces of previous work, if not the majority of it, which gives the
impression that the original artist is not needed.

 

It is very rare that appropriation art is
about disrespecting or taking the authorship of another designer. It is also
not to be seen as an indication of laziness. Elaine Sturtevant could be
regarded to be the earliest applier of appropriation art, her first and
foremost focus was to use the exact techniques that the artists she was appropriating
from had used. It has been said that in one case, Warhol lent his screens to
Sturtevant so that she could reproduce her copies of his work on silkscreens.

Most artists who appropriate use this technique on the grounds of their
interest for the previous artists’ work, or how existing pieces of work or
images can be manipulated or used to create new and exciting work. However this
is not the case for Sturtevant, she took appropriation art to a new, drastic
measure where she questioned the concept of authorship. To do so she paints an
accurate copy of an artist’s work then goes on to declare ownership, whilst
fully admitting to everyone that she knows it is an exact copy. In the 60’s she
said she allowed herself one ‘mistake’ so that she could differentiate between
her piece and the original piece. This sort of appropriation relates back to
what W.K. Wimsatt, Jr., and Monroe C. Beardsley both wrote about in ‘The
Intentional Fallacy’ where they say that art buries its creator in order to
speak its own meaning to the reader or creator. The appropriation that
Sturtevant does relates to this because it is asking what is qualified to be
treated as art is made by others and not herself, however, her work is an exact
replica so why not treat it the same and bury the creator.

 

Sherrie Levine is another appropriation
artists from the late 1970’s, who was included in a group of conceptual artists
that were known as the ‘Pictures generation’. She used photography to examine
visual representation through the use of appropriation techniques. Instead of
exploring new concepts and ideas for a photograph, Levine decided to
re-photograph reproductions of images by photographers such as Edward Weston
and Walker Evans. Levine’s appropriation of Evans’ work became a prominent
feature of postmodernism, it was not appreciated by all but was recognised by
many. Her photographs were almost identical to the originals, which is why
there was such controversy about them. In none of her photographs was there any
attempt to misguide the viewer into thinking it was all Levine, the name of the
original artist is often acknowledged within the title of the work which is
very interesting.

 

The initial image of what we know an artist
or designer to be is someone who created a piece of work. Now when we look at
an appropriation artist or designer we start to question their authorship due
to the fact that aspects of their work are taken from previously existing
artwork. One difference between an appropriation artist and the original artist
is the meaning behind the work. As the reader of a piece of work you ask
questions to do with what the artists meaning behind it would be and that is
the intention of most artists. However Barthes says in ‘The Death of the
Author’ that if the reader were to view the work through the eyes of the
creator they would not benefit from this piece of work as when you associate
the creator with that work then you are then trying to guess what the creator
meant and not just looking at the piece of work. By including other aspects of
peoples work in their work, appropriation artists, they withhold the right to
have their own meaning attach to their work.

 

If we think back to Evans photograph and
Levine’s appropriation of his photograph, Evans would have made decisions and judgements
for that photograph which resulted in it looking how we all see it now which
shows meaning to his work. If Evans chose a different frame or a different
subject the image would not look as it does, however looking at Levine’s copy
of his photograph she made no decisions apart from the one to allow her image
to look almost identical to Walker Evan’s. Thus questioning whether she is the
real artist and if it is actually her work. However, it was her who organised
everything for her photograph to look the same as Evans, again showing where
the question of authorship is blurred. Saying this, appropriation artists have
been acknowledged as artists. Levine, for example, has had work exhibited in
the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thus showing that the world of art accepts them
and grants them their rightful authorship of their work. However, how would the
artists whose art is being appropriated, such as Walker Evans, feel? Evans
would have spent all his time and effort on a photograph, which has just been
copied by Levine, and her newer version has been accepted in the art world as
her own and not just a copy of his. Is Levine’s authorship really authorship in
the tradition sense of it? It wasn’t her decisions, which made every detail of
the work; some could even class her appropriation and lack of decisions as
forgery.

 

Forgery can be seen as outright copies of
work that already exists or it can be seen as a pastiche that can be there to
imitate a specific artist or in fact a time period that art has been created
in. Either way the work that is created by the forgery and the original work
are so similar so we now wonder what the relevant distinction between them are.

What is the aspect or difference that makes the artist or designer be the
author of their work and the forger not being the author of it? Saying that the
artist has accomplished more than the forger or to say that have completed
something with more skill or of a higher difficulty level seems ridiculous, as
they have done the same thing.  However
if there is a slight variation in what the forger has produced it could be
viewed that the forger’s piece of work is harder than the original artists.

This is due to the fact that they are not in fact the original artist, being
the artist you have a set style that has developed over time and a forger is
merely trying to copy it and cannot actually be the artist.

 

Authorship can be seen in a different light
to different people, it is extremely subjective which makes it so hard to
define and outline the rules to it. In many cases it is stated that the reader
or the viewer holds more responsibility and power than the author due to the
complexity of the different experiences the author or creator puts into their
work being unseen by the viewer, they see the work with a fresh mind and thus
why authorship can be seen as unimportant. Whilst appropriation artists have
been regularly seen as undermining the concept of artistic authorship they do
succeed in achieving something different. Because they decline the request of
originality the appropriation artists are showing that originality for them is
somewhat unnecessary and expendable. At what point is appropriation art seen as
forgery, they are showing that the need for originality in the art world today
is a pressure that is not needed and authorship is there to be questioned.