I read at Woman Made gallery today with some other Columbia students, some SAIC grad students, and a few other folks. Afterward, a past professor of mine graciuosly treated me to a tasty dinner downtown. We had a good chat about various things (stars, books, food, and other things poets talk about).
At some point, she mentioned a workshop she participated in that involved subverting text. She was told to bring a finished poem to workshop; in class, each participant was given a piece of paper with a shape cut out of it, told to place it over their poem, and left with a new poem from this process. She said that it was really eye-opening, and that the experience was odd, since she had no real choice or control over this cut version of her poem. If you’ve ever written a poem,you probably know how many choices and thoughts can go into the meticulous process of arranging only so many words.
The conversation turned from there to the ideas of collaboration and remix. Poets and writers allude to, quote, and interact with already-written works. We pilfer and pillage–but this is encouraged and applauded. There are even various formats for citing other authors’ works.
Visual artists, too, can collage without spraning an eyebrow about copyright law.
So why all the ruckus about remixing music and film?
There are many ways to deal with art criticism–some consider the intent of the artist rather strongly, others emphasize the art within it’s context. I think that, although the author should have the right to try to express their intended purpose, there should still be a total allowance for others to recreate the art. Even the ordinary reader will interpret things according to their own perspective, so the art will be reinterpreted every time it is seen.
In the same way, one may consider the difference between placing a painting of a shovel on a white wall near painting of a plant versus placing the same shovel painting on a red wall near a painting of a grave. The context of the art–historical, cultural, or personal–will change the art itself. I can display the Mona Lisa on my coffee cup, Duchamp can paint a mustache on her and I can put that on my coffee cup too, but it changes the piece into a different thing.
Why can’t folks intervene with modern media without getting in trouble? Duchamp didn’t vandalize the actual Mona Lisa, he remade it. The original still exists (even though Bradbury torches it in Farenheit 451), so the artist’s original intent exists regardless of it’s remaking.