Appropriation Art – the art of “what is art”..?

Here is a story you might have heard: a photographer called Richard Prince once sold a photo lazily titled Untitled (Cowboy) for the sum of 1.2 million dollars. While this kind of thing happens often in the art world, the interesting part is that that photograph was a photograph of a photograph – Prince took a picture of a Marlboro ad, with its iconic cowboy standing tall, staring in silent masculinity into the distance, riding a horse into an unseen sunset; he then cropped out the advertisement text and showed it as his own work, eventually selling it for a hefty sum – much higher than what the original photographer was paid for doing the actual work of setting out, staging and taking the original photo.

Untitled (cowboy) and the original ad

Welcome to the world of “Appropriation Art”. Appropriation art is the act of taking something, anything, and then de- and re-contextualizing it as something else – as art. Usually, this is an act in the service of discussion about what art is, what makes something art, and how does it work. For instance, Untitled (cowboy) is a copy of a copy of a picture of a myth, and all those things exist solely as ideas in the heads of the viewers – Prince’s work challenges us to ask ourselves what are we actually looking at.

While Prince’s work is the most egregious, it is not the only form of appropriation art. Most appropriation artists work to make some sort of change to the base item, which helps recontextualize the item, making it different enough to be seen as an actual work even by the most critical eye. One of the first pieces of appropriated art is Object (luncheon in fur) – a tea set of saucer, tea cup and spoon covered in fur; this piece alludes to the connection between female decorum and feminine norms and sexuality by bringing to the fore items that fetishize each one. The new context of the items, as art put together forces the viewer to review the way he grasps the originals and their meaning.

Object (Luncheon in fur)

The dubious honor of being the most well know piece of appropriated art belongs to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain – a porcelain urinal tilted on one side and signed “R. Mutt”. For many, this piece has come to symbolize modern art and its frivolous, surreal and unintelligible nature. Ironically enough, those who decry it as “not art” are in fact making it art – since the discussion about the nature of art is what this kind of art usually seeks, taking a position against a single piece means the discussion is going on and that the item provoked it, making it a potent piece of art if ever there was one.

A screen grab of a stub from Wikipedia displaying an artist-licensed replica of the original Fountain. Is this art..?

Photographing Your Child

image003You’ve got your camera, you’ve got a kid that’s just as cute as the dickens, and you want to take the best photo you can in order to have it translated into a watercolor, pencil sketch, oil painting or pop art print. You’re just having a bit of trouble capturing your kid’s personality. Here are a few things to think about that will help you get the perfect shot.

How Does Your Child See Things?

We’re serious! The trouble with so many kid photos, what gives them that “snapshot” look, is that they’re taken from the perspective of a person looking at a child. You need to get up close and personal with your child’s world. Remember how things used to look so big to you when you were a child? Get down to that level again and look around. Get on your knees, or lie down on your stomach and prop your chin in your hands. Is he a small—oh, well, you get the idea. You want to look at the world from a kid-centric perspective. When you photograph your child, try to take the shot from the same position, as if you were relating as equals. Trust us, it will make a difference.

What Makes Your Kid Special?

Of course you’re saying, “Everything!” but you have to be a bit more specific. Remember, you want his personality to come through in the pictures you’re taking. What does your child like to do? If he’s really active, photograph him at play. If his idea of perfect happiness is snuggling up while you read him a story, catch him just waking up. You know your child, so you’re in tune with what makes him special, and what kind of opportunities to look for.

We can’t emphasize often enough the importance of candid shots. You know your little guy or gal is always doing something cute, so catch them when they’re not looking. Take pictures of your kid at play. Remember, we’re in the digital age – you can take all the pictures you want, because you don’t have to pay for film processing.

Do You Really Have to Dress Your Child Up?

You will never get a photo that reveals your child’s personality if you’re going to force him or her into cute little costumes. Things like that reveal your personality, not your child’s. Get rid of the foo-foo stuff, and photograph your kid being himself.

All right, you’ve just passed Child Psychology 101. Now go take some pictures!

Perfect Pet Pics? Perfectly Possible!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou have the most perfect pet in the entire world. He or she is the smartest, most loving, most purely beautiful animal ever to grace the face of the earth, and you want the perfect picture of him or her. Maybe you even adore this animal to the point where the photo is just the first step – you’ve heard about having your pet’s photo turned into a beautiful oil painting, water color, sketch, or maybe even a funky pop art print. You know that the end result is only going to be as good as the photo you provide, so you need to get to work capturing your best friend’s personality in a digital image. So far, though, all you’ve been able to get of your pet is pretty decent snapshots, and you want better.

Okay, you’ve got some work to do. We’re going to share with you the best ways to get just the right shot. For conversational purposes, let’s pretend we’re photographing a dog. Why? Because everybody likes dogs. Even cat people like dogs. Also for conversational purposes, let’s call him Danny. Follow these helpful tips, and in very little time, you’ll be on your way to perfect Danny art!

Always Have Your Camera Ready

No, really! How many times have you missed something that was just outstandingly cute because your camera was in another room? Danny’s not going to sit for a portrait; you’re going to have to go to him. Whether you’re at the dog park, on your way to the vet, having his walkies, or just hanging around the house, keep the camera in your pocket or on a lanyard around your neck.

Think About Background and Context

There is a difference between background and context. Background is what’s showing up behind Danny. You want to make sure that the background isn’t cluttered and doesn’t contain undesirable elements, like trash cans or dead patches of grass.

Context is what’s in the background that says “This is a place that relates specifically to Danny.” The yard could be background, but the tree that Danny likes to lie under while he’s watching you in the garden provides context. The best photos have context, because that’s what makes you smile in years to come when you think of the happy times you spent with Danny.

Obviously background and context are important for shots that you’re trying to stage, but still, don’t lose sight of the importance of those candid shots we talked about earlier.

Be Patient

As we’ve suggested, Danny’s not going to present himself at 2 p.m. on Thursday for his photo appointment. You can try staged shots, but don’t be surprised if it takes a lot of tries. Remember, even though he’s the most perfect dog in the world, he’s still just a dog – don’t expect too much of him. You’ll get the right shot eventually.

Have fun with this – it’s time spent with your pet, so enjoy it.

Getting the Perfect Self-Portrait to Transfer to Canvas

Beautiful portrait

Beautiful portrait

If you’ve been envisioning a portrait of yourself hanging in your house, but have no talent for painting or sketching, you can have one made from a photo that you’ve taken yourself. It’s easy get the perfect photo if you approach it in the right way. Here are some more tips for getting that perfect shot that can be made into a work of art you’ll treasure forever.

Take at Least One Photo Every Day…

Everyone has a “better” time of day. Some people shine in the morning; others don’t fully come to life until long after the sun is down. Whatever time of day suits you best, that’s when you should take at least one photo. So, if you’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before the rest of the world has even begun to stir, put on something nice, apply a bit of makeup if you feel like it, and get to work, because that’s when you’re going to get the best picture of yourself! Feel free to experiment with locations – where do you look the most natural? Are you an “outdoors” kind of person, or do you feel more in your element lounging on the couch? Pretend you’re a wildlife photographer and photograph yourself in your natural habitat!

…Unless…

If you’re sick, or just feeling down for some reason, ignore the “one a day” rule. If you’re feeling “off,” the chances are very good that your mood will be reflected in your photographs. You might be able to tell friends and family, “I’m fine, really,” and have them believe it, but chances are you won’t be able to fool the camera, so don’t waste your time. Save the photo session until you’re feeling more yourself.

Get a Second Opinion

Speaking of friends and family, unless your more comfortable keeping all this a secret, you might want to get them to take a look at your photos. Often if you’re trying to decide which shot is best, you might just need a nudge in the right direction. Show you’re your best work, and ask a friend or relative to pick their favorite. For that matter, if you’re not shy, you could even get opinions from relative strangers. Sometimes they’re more honest – if the guy behind the counter at Starbucks says “I’d go with either #3 or #5, but I’m not crazy about #2,” that’s a good, solid opinion. Remember, though, the final choice is always yours.