It might seem an oversimplification of convenience, for instance, or perhaps an unjustifiable banalization of issues to conflate a few recent 'news' items related to copyright infringement (maybe) with a recent report of the violent repression of artists in Syria, but I hope not. Or at any rate, I should elect to prefer to side with hoping not, for neither do I hope to present a true argument. I'm not sure I have the right to do so.
Do I? Don't I? Might I?
It might not matter, really. I'm not quite sure there's need to.
As ArtNews reports, artists whose expressive practices entail variable modes and degrees of 'appropriation'—whether or not the artists in question embrace or reject such a label—face increasing levels of scrutiny, and allegations of copyright infringement, or at least sensitivities to it, seem likely to climb. Artistic integrity in general plays a role in all this, too, as exemplified in the article by an addressing of Bob Dylan's relative lack thereof. In his paintings, that is. None of this ranks as breaking news by any means, but it's of note.
Of different note, a short article in the current Economist tells the story of Bo Muller-Moore, an artist—specifically, a "Neolithic stencil artist"—who recently received cease and desist orders from Chik-fil-A—famed makers of lemonade and waffle fries who evidently 'invented' bipedal cows—for "misappropriation" of their 'Eat Mor Chikin' [sic] slogan. The artist (or criminal mastermind, or what have you) had made a bit of money selling t-shirts reading 'Eat More Kale,' with the obviously sinister intent of helping his friend, a Kale farmer, move a bit of leafy crop. Expert linguists over at Chik-fil-A headquarters, however, claimed that his usage would be "likely to cause confusion." The Economist's questioning of such logic is worth quoting (appropriating!) here: "Really? The letter does not cite a single person whom the slogan has confused. Besides, one entity sells food, the other clothing; only the profoundly stoned or deranged would try to eat a T-shirt or wear a chicken sandwich."
In addition, Mr. Moore does not intentionally misspell his items of reference; he goes all the way to the fourth letter with 'more,' and 'kale' is really written as such. Shouldn't that count for something? (On that note, why is it okay to portray cows as bad spellers? Is Chik-fil-A not just pro-gallus but also anti-bovine? Is that discriminatory? Demeaning? Animal profiling? A stretch, sure. But since the company has sent out similar cease and desist orders to other innocuous slogan-borrowers, The Economist points out that the company seems to be claiming rights to the very expression 'eat more.' A stretch, too, one might say.)
Meanwhile, flipping the tables a bit while staying in the same issue of The Economist, 'misappropriation' of Mother Nature remains ever a non-issue for certain upper-echelon art world power brokers, as Damien Hirst's douche-bathery of whole animals in formaldehyde—a practice he obviously invented and/or altered significantly enough to circumvent any relationship whatsoever to long-standing empirical-type traditions of, well, bathing animals in formaldehyde—is regarded as just fine and dandy. Worthy of praise at the Tate Modern, even.
Oh well. In a different sphere of art or 'art,' it's both licit and legit to appropriate technology and its
life- boredom-reducing telephonic trappings, all the while aping a long-popular party game, as long as you make lots of money doing it. Or so it seems, that is, for the makers of Draw Something, recently crowned New York Times darlings. Perhaps the trick is to make tons of money before getting sued? Perhaps that way you're too big, maybe even powerful, for pecuniary admonishment? Perhaps then it would take really, really big entities to hold you accountable? If so, take note, fast-food corporations: Consider suing these and all related app makers for 'misappropriating' the notion of 'fast,' which you must certainly have invented, in their promotion of 'fast art,' lest it "cause confusion" for the ever faster-paced general public.
All this talk about getting sued (or not) for making art (or 'art') becoming a bit depressing? It could be much, much worse. Syrian political cartoonist and parodist Ali Ferzat can attest to that. As reported in the BBC, the artist was "attacked by masked men" in Damascus and beaten to a pulp over certain satirical representations of Bashar al-Assad. The good news is that Ferzat will probably regain full use of his hands at some point, and that at least he wasn't slain outright like Ibrahim Quashoush, an activist who created a protest song that resulted in getting him killed. His killers also ripped out his vocal cords. Sobering, to say the least.
And on that note of saying the least about an all-too-literal silencing of opposing opinions, I shall say no more about all this. Because maybe I don't
care to have the voice right to.
You can follow Paul D'Agostino on Twitter @postuccio