Douglas Crimp appears to be saying that there are two uses of photography, one as a conceptual tool and the other as art. And further that the introduction of photography ‘into’ art defined the transformation of modernism into post modernism.
For the purposes of this research I shall restrict myself to the ways in which Sherrie Levine’s photography is or is not artistic, rather than photography’s role in challenging museum culture or defining a new cultural era.
Three key questions : What is Art? Does ‘Art’ have to have a creative component? And what is creativity?
For which, I think there are no easy or agreed answers.
The underlying assumption in both David Crimp’s essay and the course material seems to be that appropriating styles as the raw material for one’s own style is artistic, “… so Mapplethorpe constructs from his historical sources a synthetic ‘personal’ vision that is yet another creative link in photographic history’s endless chain of possibilities.” (Crimp. 1982: 192)
In contradiction, the use of photography as a tool of appropriation without any change is inferred as non artistic. “Her appropriations have only functional value for the particular historical discourses into which they are inserted” (Crimp. 1982: 191)
Further in his essay Crimp says that Levine makes no claim on artistic creativity (Crimp: 1982: 191), but gives us no evidence. Assuming this is factual it raises a question about the creator’s intent. Does an artist’s intention, or stated intention, define whether they have creativity or is that defined by the wider cultural discussion around their work?
The question in my research point therefore centres on understanding how Levine used photography, and if that lacked creativity. And considering the point at which philosophy (or at least art criticism) ends and art begins.
The Tate (Tate. s.d.) says Levine is a conceptual artist whose work consists of exact photographic reproductions of other photographers work. Certainly the Tate considers her an artist, so she has now been accommodated within the museum system. As Crimp said, “… the strategy of appropriation becomes just another academic category – a thematic – through which the museum organises its objects” (Crimp. 1982: 193)
Artnet say Levine is an appropriation artist (Sherrie Levine. s.d.) examining codes of representation she recreates the work of historically significant artists. The Met Museum (Sherrie Levine. s.d.) says that in 1981 Levine photographed reproductions of Depression-era photographs by Walker Evans.
Fig. 1 After Walker Evans: 4 (1981)
The Met article (Sherrie Levine s.d.) elaborates how the photograph became a critical moment in defining postmodernism. It was a male owned photograph appropriated by a female and challenged both the patriarchal authority and the commodification of art.
By presenting this photograph in a gallery as her work, which it was because she took the photograph, she raised questions of originality and ownership. It raise the question of where the creativity lies, in the subject or in the artist (the subject was a reproduction of a famous photograph but Levine was the artist of her photograph). And a photograph of a photograph is not the same as a print of the original photograph because the subject has to be framed and lit and there are many technical/artistic decisions. However, it does raise issues about the ownership of an image which is partly determined by copyright law, and partly by artistic usage.
My first thought is practical. It may be deemed prosaic but I don’t think anybody should profit from appropriating an image I made. The image cost me time and money to make and is my livelihood, had I not brought it into creation it wouldn’t be there to use. We live in a society with a concept of ownership and I don’t think that artistic license overrides having my work appropriated by someone else who then profits from it.
I have no connection to any aspect of her work in terms of my own creative development because my practice is about synthesising my skill, knowledge, personality and subconscious to produce unique works and not in appropriating other people’s work. My work is a reflection of my subjectivity rather than conceptually based on the meanings inherent in other people’s work.
I think that using copies as part of one’s working process is artistically valid. The meanings brought by the copied work form part of the raw materials the artist is working with (it could be argued that Levine is just an extreme example of this), they ‘paint with ideas’ as much as with texture and colour. The creativity, for me, is in how they portray and question complex verbal constructions with a ‘simple’ powerful image that can question the very foundations of our society. Conceptual art works with ideas and fuses visual and verbal meanings and, whether it be Duchamp’s urinal or Levine’s photographs, appropriation is relevant and valid.
However, I am not a conceptual artist and work non verbally, so have no need to use copies of existing works.
List of illustrations:
Fig. 1 After Walker Evans: 4 (1981) [Web page, screenshot] At: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/267214 (Accessed 19/11/2020).
Crimp, D. (1982) Appropriating Appropriation At: OpenAthens (s.d.) At: https://contentstore.cla.co.uk/EReader/Index?p=RDpcU2l0ZXNccHJvZHVjdGlvblxUZW1wXERDUy1hZGFhNzgxMi1jMTQzLTRlM2UtOGMwNy04ODExZmI1NDFjYTcucGRm&o=JnB1Ymxpc2hlZENvbnRlbnRfSWQ9MTI5NDk0NSZjb250ZW50UmVxdWVzdF9JZD0xNDAwNzI3JmRvY3VtZW50TGluaz1mYTJjZmQ2NC01N2U4LWVhMTEtODBjZC0wMDUwNTZhZjQwOTkmY29udGVudEl0ZW1fSWQ9MzExMTE5&id=fa2cfd64-57e8-ea11-80cd-005056af4099 (Accessed 19/11/2020).
Sherrie Levine (s.d.) At: http://www.artnet.com/artists/sherrie-levine/ (Accessed 19/11/2020).
Sherrie Levine (s.d.) At: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/267214 (Accessed 19/11/2020).
Tate (s.d.) Sherrie Levine born 1947. At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/sherrie-levine-2753 (Accessed 19/11/2020).