image / resources / documents :

to appropriate ::


In a recent post by Justine Giles on her MFA blog, Rhurbard Pyjamas, Giles includes a TEDxKC video of the writer and artist Austin Kleon’s talk Steal like an Artist graciously thanking Tanya Eccelston, visiting scholar at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design for the link. In the video Kleon describes his methods of research and the role that collecting and appropriating play in his creative process.

In contrast, the artist Aleksandra Mir describes in an interview with Lars Bang Larsen how the title of her work Hello came about. Mir tells the story of a student, named Happy, who she knew at art school who would greet arbitrary people as they went through the doors with a simple hello. Twenty five years later she thinks of Happy’s performance and says “it would be hard not to give him some credit for my work with Hello (Mir, 2013).

These two examples probably sit at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of ‘stealing ideas’ but none-the-less they highlight the significance of appropriation to artists in the creative process. I have always had a delicate relationship with appropriating. Somehow I felt like I may be cheating or not being true to my sense of originality by stealing; not from the original author or source, but in a strange way, from myself. It felt like some sort of moral and ethical defeatist paradigm. What I have come to realise is that I have been denying myself the full process of exploration and the irrefutable need to reference not only my past experiences, cultural or otherwise, but also those moments and creative outputs that have influenced me the most through the work of others.

This awakening to the real intent of appropriation is also exemplified by the filmmaker and director Jim Jarmusch. In a recent article in the New Zealand Listener, Alexander Bisley talks with Jarmusch about his recent movie Only Lovers Left Alive. Jarmuch’s approach to the creative process is one of contemplative instinct, referencing historical characters and exotic locations. Jarmusch describes the process in his latest offering to the cinematic world as a “kind of grope around in the dark” (Jarmusch, as cited in Bisley, 2014, p. 38). Bisely closes the piece with an extract from Rule #5 of Jarmusch’s ‘Golden Rules’, a reflective insight into his working process. Here I have included the extended quote:

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to”. (Jarmusch, 2004)

In an age of FOLLOW’s, LIKE’s, SHARES’s and TWEET’s, the appropriation and dissemination of information has become part of a common culture. What once was an intellectual reflection on the uniqueness of individuality today it is an instinctual reflex instigated through an interface that encourages personal disclosure and cultivates a dichotomy of idiosyncratic homogenization. As the digital space become both a mimesis of everyday life and an environment with its own existence, more and more it becomes a space that requires comment and reflection.


Jarmusch, J. (2004). Jim Jarmusch’s 5 golden rules (or non-rules) of moviemakingRetrieved from

Bisely, A. (2014, May 3-9). Bloodied, but alive. New Zealand Listener, 243(3860), 38-39.

Mir, A. (2013). Hello: In conversation with Lars Bang Larsen. In Lars Bang Larsen (ED.), Networks: Documents of contemporary art. (pp. 86-88). London, England: Whitechapel Gallery.

4 thoughts on “to appropriate ::

  1. I’m not sure your examples are opposite on the spectrum, I think they’re both a nod to the fact that everything has a lineage if you look hard enough.

    It’s an interesting thing appropriation, I’ve heard it described as “quoting” which I kind of like, but I think the more successful way to appropriate is to paraphrase.

    • I agree that there is ‘lineage’ in all things but wonder if we should need to look ‘hard’ to see that all things are connected? Maybe as artists our role/intent is to expose these concepts which might seem obvious to us. I suppose it comes down to a matter of semantics and I am intrigued in the fact that you seem more concerned for the original intent of something. I thought this relevant by the collective Slavs and Tartars ( and their approach to language within their work:

      “IN OTHER WORDS: Despite the ways that languages—and cultures, and religions—separate people from one another, there are common ties embedded in the deep grammer of linguistics that unite everyone, so language is an appropriate way to communicate even if the language is not shared. (The quote at the end of their quote is from Fragile Identies: Towards a Theology of Interreligious Hospitality by Marianne Moyaert.)”

      Retreived from: (

      I also find it fascinating that by shifting the grammatical intent of the word ‘appropriate’ it can either be an affirmative word or a negative action; ‘appropriation’ (verb) might be seen as stealing or thieving but strangely to me it seems ‘appropriate’ (noun) to do so.

  2. Hi Chris, I promise it wasn’t my intent to get into semantics, so apologies if my comment came across that way. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate (haha) to have just said “everything has a lineage if you look for it” (I didn’t mean at all to comment on how hard or easy the search might be).

    I’m intrigued that you think I “seem more concerned for the original intent of something” I wonder where I gave you that impression?

    Word play and linguistics are interesting, but very sticky. The more I look into language the more dubious I become about communication. I’m not sure anyone shares a common language, because the meaning can be taken in all kinds of unintentional ways because of the subtlety of connotation. (It plagues me a bit, as I’m never quite convinced I’ve found the right words to explain what I’m thinking).

    • Hi Justine, no offence taken, I didn’t find your comments negative and I am really enjoying a bit of a banter and some discourse. I am also really enjoying that this conversation has diverted into semantics. I suppose its the use of the words ‘quote’ and ‘paraphrase’ to describe appropriation where my observations derived from and I like the way your language compliments the works you presented at the april sessions; they express your language, your personality. Its a good thing, I think those words sit in nicely with the visual and conceptual language you gave us at that session and you are absolutely right about linguistics, very sticky, very tricky and endlessly fascinating.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s