The most recent email newsletter from ArtKrush, a sister publication of Flavorpill, featured this Boston Globe article about Roy Lichtenstein's questionable sampling. The journalist, Alex Beam, writes:
"Color me naive, but I never thought Lichtenstein's work was a direct copy of scenes from comic books. I assumed that he stylized certain scenes suggested by the comic vernacular of the 1950s and 1960s. 'He tried to make it seem as though he was making major compositional changes in his work, but he wasn't,' says [David] Barsalou, who teaches at the High School of Commerce in Springfield. 'The critics are of one mind that he made major changes, but if you look at the work, he copied them almost verbatim. Only a few were original.'"Barsalou's website, "Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein," shows the original comic panels alongside the related Lichtenstein painting. It's worth a look.
That Lichtenstein stole his imagery from superior artists doesn't particularly bother me. At least, it bothers me a lot less today than it did a decade ago. The disapproving murmurs regarding "the implications for copyright law" will soon be mute; for better or worse, intellectual property is swiftly becoming a thing of the past. Lichtenstein's "borrowing" may have been deemed outrageous in the 1960s - had he been exposed - but we now live in the era of the re-mix and the sample. It doesn't matter that he stole. (Curiously, Lichtenstein got rich turning work intended for print reproduction into "one-of-kinds." Today, we are beginning to see some back swing of this pendulum, with reproduction and dissemination gaining ground on the one-of-a-kind sacred object.)
What does bother me - nay, what infuriates me - is Lichtenstein's elitism. The effete hack sampled, but he did so without acknowledging the source. He knew he could get away with it, as his social situation protected him from any outcry on the part of the comic artists. Lichtenstein was a member of the "high art" aristocracy. All but a few of that circle - artists, critics, dealers, and collectors alike - held the more popular (and populist) art forms in contempt, believing them trivial, mundane, and intellectually bereft. And to that, I expectorate, "Fuck you, assholes."
A decade ago, when I was more likely to let fists fly, Lichtenstein was the one artist I dreamed of pummeling. I can't rationalize this rage, but one rarely can; I loathe the man for his absurd insistence that his cribbed paintings were works of art while the source was mere froth.
Happily, I rest more easily these days, confident that Lichtenstein is quickly turning into a cultural blip, one of the many hundreds of artists celebrated in his or her lifetime, only to be discarded or, at best, relegated to the footnotes decades after their death.
The moral of the story: we like comics better than phonies and, Roy, we're fed up with your kind.
Photo credit: image ripped from "Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein"