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Wednesday, 23 March 2011


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Well there's a philosophy for you. Apparently stemming from the fact that there was 'no future' back then. No future for him, or for all of us? Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. So a sort of minimalist response to lack of hope: do the least and see how that works. Not to say that there is no project here. You, the artist, are supposed to find your own vision and work it through. Find those tricks that are yours. Even if its only one.

There are two problems here.
1) "Stealing" someone's copywrited material.
2) People legally copywriting material which isn't really original (and unique) to them.
When someone can copywrite or patent another person's DNA, then the laws have gotten ridiculus.

His "art" seems a bit too consciously directed to be art. Art, to me, should be as much a journey of discovery for the artist as the consumer. He seems to know exactly what message he wants to deliver; the one that will seem cleverest to people with money. And his audience seems to love the ease with which they "get" his message.

Then again, who am I to judge? To more I learn about art, the less I seem to know.

Well, so be it for his comment, but having read as well the full article, a few remark.
- Copying or sampling without the orignal author approval (or at least trying to get it) is bad moraly and legally. Money is not part of the equation.
- In the judgement it is said that there is material proof that Mr Prince knew of the artist but never tried to contact him to get his approval.
- Mr Prince made several million dollar in the process.

Conclusion: He could have taken example on the music industrie, Madonna got Abba's approval for sampling before releasing her track. Whether of not Madonna's work is original is a different debate, but, if you want to borrow from other artist, you must at least try to get an answer.

If Mr Prince had no money, he wouldn't get sued, only because suing costs no money, or because he goes unnoticed, not because people would be less offended.

His defence in the line "that is always how I worked" is just shameful and lazy.

And in another judgement against copyright thieves (Google Books), we have this: http://tinyurl.com/64fxjks

This jumps out at me - quote:

" . . . I knew what I was stealing 30 years ago but it didn’t matter because no one cared, no one was paying any attention . . . "

So it's okay to siphon gas from a stranger's car provided I am not well known, no one sees me do it, and I don't take enough that the person will notice?

I don't believe that the body of work was "unsuccessful," unless you judge it against his earlier more successful body of work which was DIRECT copies of another photograph. Perhaps there's a lesson in that for him: the more he adds to a work, the less valuable it becomes. The career advice from a movie I saw once might benefit him. "He suggested that you sell shoes."

However, I now actually have a tiny bit more respect for Mr. Prince than I did before. A scumbag who admits he's a scumbag and doesn't try to make excuses about it is, morally speaking, a tiny bit superior to a scumbag who tries to argue exclusively to his Great Art as a defense for whatever scumbaggery he gets up to.

What a dreadful person Mr Prince is. It was "ok to steal stuff because no-one cared and it didn't matter"...now there's an ethical approach to life if ever I've heard one.

I've read a bunch of things about Richard Prince's work in the past 20 years or so and to be frank, worrying about the "high ground" is not what he does.

Richard Prince was a photographer who used "Photography" as his subject matter. It's really that simple. Now he is an artist who sometimes uses photography as an element to his work. Contextually the work deals with what might be easiest to describe as "post-modern life".

He's an interesting artist that pushes a lot of peoples buttons, for a number of different reasons. At least give him credit for not boring you.

Two things to note:

1. As far as the copyright stuff, Warhol got sued as well (as do almost every band that has a hit record - usually settled out of court with NDA's), it happens.

2. I find the whole moral outrage about Prince to be really funny, I wonder, of the people on this list - how many of you have seen the work in person? It's far different than what you expect. As you know, reviewing art exclusively on the internet is kinda dicey because scale is destroyed as well as presence and about a thousand little things that add up to become really important.

So if you can, go see the work. Then judge.

3. the legal part is really the least interesting to me (especially as an artist) I would rather have total freedom in my studio and worry about the consequences later than feel I need to consult a lawyer while I make art.

The siphoning gas metaphor is a specious argument. Siphoning gas takes money from the strangers pocket. 30 years ago when Richard Prince started "stealing", I doubt anyone was losing out on money because someone bought his work instead of the original. Also if someone liked the Rastafarian photograph, I doubt they would say "Hmm, I could get a much cheaper version and buy Richard Prince's version instead." They would want the original Rastafarian photograph.

I think that Richard Prince has gone too far and he adds little creativity to his work, but thats just an opinion, not a fact(it's art after all, even if I don't like it). I think copyright goes way too far in law. Copyright is a contract between the artist and the government. The government gives a limited time monopoly to sell their art and then it is given to public domain where it can be built upon by others. It used to be something like 15 years, and now it is now for the life of the artist plus 90 years. What right do the children of an artist who often had nothing to do with the creation have to make millions off of their ancestors and control their work. The fashion industry has no idea of copyright on designs and they are doing great and are still very creative and make plenty of money(You may have a different opinion on the fashion industry :-)).

Creativity requires building on previous work. Nothing is created in a vacuum. When nothing is public domain, nothing can be created.

I'm not particularly interested in piling on this bandwagon, partly because there doesn't seem to be any sport in it and partly because it just feeds the machine, but I actually thought that this was the most interesting part of the quoted excerpt (refering to the pictures he took from Patrick Cariou):

"Basically I like the way things look; that’s all my decisions are about—if it looks good, it is good."

Acknowleding that there is something special about the way that Cariou's pictures look, something that makes them good (and others bad) would seem to directly contradict the claims (presumably made and formulated by his lawyers on his behalf) that:

"...Cariou’s Photos are mere compilations of facts concerning Rastafarians and the Jamaican landscape, arranged with minimum creativity in a manner typical of their genre"

Best regards,

I have sometimes wondered how Larry Gagosian would react if someone copied one of his startist's works and began selling it.

But I suspect if the (new) copier sold well enough Gagosian would make every effort to "Gagosian" him/her, too!

What a load of dressed up bohemian, pseudo anarchistic twaddle. It must be nice impressing your friends with such unscrupulous behaviour, cherrypicking legitimate toil for your own gain and not having the moral fibre to even be grateful for others tolerance. I'm only going off this brief encounter, so can't comment generally on this pseuds output, but as this is a statement in the public domain he deserves any and all flak due.
Bah !

The first person to respond to this said "let's give him the benefit of the doubt". Why? He admits he STOLE the work!! Case closed.

@ MarcW

"I don't believe that the body of work was "unsuccessful," unless you judge it against his earlier more successful body of work which was DIRECT copies of another photograph."

Possibly it is the way in which it was written, but I interpreted those words to mean that Mr Prince felt that Cariou's work was unsuccessful, and that he was expecting Cariou not to be bothered, or (I infer, and could be wrong) somehow be grateful to Mr Prince for pushing the original art up in the public consciousness.

@ Chris Heady:

My point was not about whether anyone was losing money by something being taken. It was about Richard Prince's rationalization and justification for using the photographs.

Rationalization merely shows intent and contempt. Theft is theft.

As a photographer, aren't you taking every time you take a picture?

Is the Rastaman going to get a cut? I mean, after all, he is the body of work.

It it makes Richard Prince fell any beter, I don't know who he is.

He's going to do his work and you're going to gripe about it. Do you win?

Unsuccessful refers to Prince's work pretty clearly - he's not insulting Cariou's work.

Appropriation methods in art, and related litigation, are nothing new. Andy Warhol's well known silk-screened paintings of flowers from the mid-1960s (typically titled Four-Foot Flowers) were lifted out of Modern Photography magazine. The photographer sued and the matter was settled out of court. As part of the settlement, Warhol gave the photographer two of the paintings. In recent years, Warhol paintings of that image from that era have been selling for over $5 million.

I suppose this raises the question of whether it is actually a boon lesser known artists to have their work appropriated by the likes of Warhol and Prince. I suppose the answer is a provisional yes, so long as there is legal recourse.

I found the Prince interview pretty interesting, and I'm now even more sympathetic with what he was doing. He was simply picking up stuff from the environment around him, and showing it as art. I mean, when Daniel Burnham designed the Flatiron building in NYC, he obviously was artistically aware, and that was his personal creation, so should all those famous photographers and painters who made pictures and paintings (and sold them) be sued by somebody? They would include some pretty big targets -- Steichen and Steiglitz and Coburn and John Sloan and Childe Hassam among them...or perhaps we should argue that artists shouldn't be able to use the environment around them, if somebody else has "rights" to it. How about "rights" to your farm? Should any old photographer have the right to take a picture of YOUR farm? Everybody here seems to think they should...in fact, everybody here seems to think you should be able to take pictures of almost anything, as long as its not somebody's else's photograph, even though that person has put the photograph out in the environment whee you can see it. Sounds a little like the famous and universal legal principle concerning whose ox is being gored.

Jusy sayin'...



I think I understand your point.

It just gets my ire up when people equate immediate money loss and art sampling(which I understand you weren't doing).

I understand there are a lot of creators(usually photographers) on this blog, and they can't stand theft of art because they make their living creating art. With photography its a lot easier to see who has stolen an exact image. I just want to be a voice for future artists who will inevitably have to rely on what came before them for inspiration. And I am pretty angry at what big companies like Disney do to lock down creations from long dead artists, in the process forcing the lockdown of countless other pieces of art through legislation.

Let's face it, at best, Mr. Prince is disingenious and lazy, at worst, he's a liar and a thief. Maybe it's the product of a Catholic grade school upbringing, but it's been ingrained in me since my youth that ignorance of the law is no excuse, you pay the price and learn from your mistakes. It's pretty apparent that Mr. Prince knew he was stealing work from a very early point in his career arc, and I'm not buying the 'wayward-art-badboy' BS; cut it and can it! Like most 'artists' I know, they are always more calculating and cagey than the personna they like to promote to the public. The 'free-souls-blowing-in-the-wind' stuff is pure hype.

Mr. Prince is not getting sued because he is now making money hand-over-fist, he's getting sued because his position in the media is such that now more people that he steals from can find out what he is doing.

Interesting to note, at the dawn of the 'internet' as a promotional vehicle in the early 90's, and when many people were just trying to decide how to handle this strange thing; I was sent by my company at the time, to a refresher course in media and copyright law. To my chagrin, the entire class was filled with agency and business types whose sole purpose in attending the class was to find out exactly how much they could steal of other peoples work off the net and not be held accountable! I was appalled at the questions they were asking! The attorney handling the class was getting more and more frustrated until she finally said: "Nothing, nothing, nothing! There is no part of anything you can steal off the net and use for free without negotiating usage rights." That pretty much shut everyone up and half the class disappeared after lunch.

Mr. Prince's defenders also sound like those in the arts community looking for an easy way to produce 'art' by 'appropriating' someone else's hard work, spending a little time on it, and pumping it into the market. Lets face it, it's one thing to have the physical skills to paint or sketch like Rembrandt or Picasso, and maybe hit on some sort of simplification of a process to work at a different pace or in a more emotional style; but it's entirely a different thing to not have those skills and not have an ability to master those skills, like many art school grads, and be looking for something you can cobble together with limited skills, to sell to the public and promote yourself.

If everything is in 'the environment' (what isn't ?) and thus available for copy, where is the motivation to go to the artistic and physical trouble of making anything of worth (in the intellectual and fiscal senses) or of uniqueness. If there were to be a free for all I believe artistic integrity and meaning would take a dive since your creation would only lead to obscurity: we would end up with generic images and samples that haven't required original thought, or, are of any great merit - why do the hard work for someone when clip art will do ?
The film industry deem this as piracy, no less, which is a far milder term that I would use for someone profiting from my endevours, even if they are 'out in the environment'.

I agree that copyright has gotten out of control (terms are too long). However, it's not as bad as claimed, and it wasn't previously as short as claimed.

Before 1978, it was 28 years with an optional extension for another 28 years (the artist had to file paperwork to extend). Then it became life of the artist plus 50 years (which put us in line with where the rest of the world was; there's something to be said for a global copyright scheme, though I do think life+50 is far too long). Then it got extended to life of the artist plus 70 years (in 1998).

@Don Smith
"As a photographer, aren't you taking every time you take a picture?"

Actually, I would say that creating a photograph is more a matter of giving. Giving of one's time. Giving of one's talent. Giving of one's energy. Giving of one's attention to detail. Giving of one's attention to the subject at hand. No matter what field or discipline, giving, to my mind, is the core aspect of what it means to create a photograph.

@ Matt P,

you may well be correct in that the "unsuccessful" refers to Prince's work, not Cariou's. But if so, I'd like to have a few more "unsuccessful" ventures where - per Mike's originally linked article from "A Photo Editor" - Prince and the Gagosian Gallery received somewhat over $18 million, which they split 60:40, for sales from the series.

Mike's original article and this follow up have taught me 3 things, the first of which (always research unfamiliar artists before paying entrance fees to an exhibition) I should have learned years ago. The second - never give properly earned money to Richard Prince or to the Gagosian Gallery - is a lesson I shall remember into the future. The third is that if you enter text onto a website such as "Richard Prince is an unscrupulous thief of creativity" and "The Gagosian Gallery profits from intellectual theft", then Google will remember, particularly if you caveat those remarks by words such as "in my opinion" to allow the proprietor to disown you in a future libel court.

The third lesson is even more telling if the proprietor elects to publish the text, but follows up with a declaration that he is not responsible for my views and cannot endorse such a scurrilous or offbeat opinion.

I worry more about the art cognoscenti who reward Mr. Prince, hughly, for his unattributed appropriations. Has our culture become so bored or lazy or so in search of the "easy button" that he is viewed as a genius? Consider watching "Exit Through the Gift Shop," available from Netflix, to see how those folks love appropriation.

And an idle thought for JC. If I find a book on the pavement (in the environment), pick it up and read it, and really like some significant portions of it, then I produce a piece of work, under my name, that appropriates heavily from said work, without attribution and/or approval from the original author, is that not wrong? If I get the movie rights for big bucks by takings the original author's ideas? It seems that many academic and journalistic careers have gone up in smoke for such behavior - as well as Hollywood screen writers and pop music composers. I'd say it's a slippery slope out there.

Well apparently Court has now ordered Prince and Gagosian to destroy all versions of this work still in their possession along with any gallery catalogues. As well, they are to inform anyone who bought the works that they were not lawfully made nor can they be lawfully displayed.

So that's a few millions dollars worth of art that has to be thrown on bonfire and customers who apparently paid out cold hard cash for or bartered other art in exchange for Princes work to the tune of around 18 million dollars - for something they can now only keep in a closet. I imagine there are going to be a few more lawsuits coming their way soon.


Of course all this merely means that Prince's next body of work will sell like hot cakes

(and yes, I have seen some of it in person - and with the possible exception of the first sets of the Marlboro man work, it's pretty much undergraduate art school stuff . Both in terms of concept - which has, to say the least - been far more deeply mined long since by artists of both greater and lesser repute, and in terms of execution - has been done far more skillfully).

Prince's hubris is far more openly visible in both his work and his words than is his worth as an artist.

"...I am being sued at the moment (by a French photographer I might add) for taking his original images and turning them into paintings."

What has that got to do with anything? Would he have liked it better to be sued by a US photographer?

"'...I am being sued at the moment (by a French photographer I might add) for taking his original images and turning them into paintings.' What has that got to do with anything?"

I presume it's because he was talking about the Vuittons' show in Paris in the prior section in the interview. But you'd have to ask him.


I take exception to the people on this blog claiming the copyright law is out of control, you are obviously not the creators of copyrighted works, and more likely the people that want to profit from stealing some others hard work.

In this day and age of easy internet access to work on art and photography sites, and places like Etsey and Flickr, it's never been easier for the lazy and idea-less to steal work from others. The idea that you would make it more difficult for creators to have to constantly monitor their work and keep records to know when to precisely 're-up' their copyrights means that you have something to gain when they don't: theft!

I, as one of many, are happy with the 'life-plus' copyright law, and why shouldn't a creators family profit from their creations, no different than someone inheriting their Dad's plumbing company. Again, what reason would anyone have for being against this policy other than the idea that they could take the creators work and profit from it without compensating the creator or their family? Again, the lazy and sleezy looking for their crumb without having to work for it.

For all of you piling on to Richard Prince, here's another "thief":

That this is of course the work of someone who is considered (by a long, long list of serious photographers) to be the Father of Us All, should cause some hesitation to all the finger-pointers.

Appropriation in art -- re-presenting another media, or using images found in the world as source material for one's own images (how about "the medium is the message") -- is nothing new. The legal system sometimes intervenes, and sometimes finds a "copyright violation" (of course a pure social construct), and sometimes a non-infringing "fair use". The line is never clear, despite all the harrumphing.

Art is art, law is law. They're different things. Law's intervention into art is, at bottom, about money -- about who ought to benefit financially from a work of art. And money has nothing to do with whether something is art or not (or whether it is great art or bad art) -- and thus something I don't really care about when I consider a work.

Prince's Rasta paintings don't do much for me, but I think he is, overall, a visual artist of tremendous power.

I have been mulling over getting my self in this fight. I have started and abandoned about five comments but Yuanchung Lee has toucned on something that I want to comment on. I have noticed the vitriol and hyperbole around this case lately, and have noticed the irony of art directors and "professional" photographers climbing into the copyright issue.

I am an artist who has done commercial photography in the past (I don't now). And I wonder if any of the people who have been cheering this decision are the same art directors who turn up at a planning meeting with the photographer with a pile of images from another photographer (usually from a magazine or book), and say "I want it to look just like this." I wonder how many of the photographers who disparage Mr Prince happily say "yes" and go on and rip off another photographer's intellectual property.

I wait for the first court case and the cries of anguish from the photographers who will claim that it is all so unfair.

Most people aren't displaying their art for simple gratification, most people would like to think that what they show may bring a financial reward, if indeed they haven't already been compensated. Once money is involved then so is law. Art, money, and law are part of the fabric of society, it is inescapable the way we live and someone who is trying to convince us that it is morally justified to ignore these precepts is only setting themselves up for criticism: at the least this is a very negative, anti-social means of attracting attention to themselves. I don't know of any great art, or much terrible art, that hasn't had a financial incentive to be created, or do artists live freely ? Come to think of it, it seems that terrible art is just the thing to suck up money.

Regardless of legal copyright considerations, Prince is at best lazy, and at worst talentless. Regardless of those considerations, he's also inconsiderate and disrespectful of other artists. But that's my opinion and obviously not yours.

I consider art to require more than just a message--skill is also necessary. Prince hasn't shown me anything near what I would consider artistic skill. And for somebody who relies so heavily on the skills of others to provide a baseline for him to build upon, it's troubling how little regard he has for those artists whose shoulders he stands upon.

Yuanchung Lee: Thank you. I agree with you almost to the word (and tried to bring up the Evans picture in the other thread, to no avail).

One thing that seems to be missing from this
conversation is any acknowledgment that Prince is not trying to pass anyone else's work off as his own: he is perfectly clear about his technique, and most people who see it -- and certainly anyone who buys it -- is well aware that he uses other people's pictures. For those who are absolutely against his work, that may not make much difference, but it does make the ethical issues considerably less simple. Some people seem to think he's trying to pass other people's work off as his own. That simply isn't true, any more than Evans tried to pass the snapshots in Studio off as his own. There's absolutely no deception involved.

Moreover, Prince isn't really a photographer, and doesn't pretend to be: he paints, he makes sculptures, he does the "rephotography", but he's not -- for lack of a better description -- part of any photographic community. His work isn't shown in photo galleries or magazines; it's rarely bought for photography collections. At auction, it's categorized as "contemporary art", not photography. Why is this relevant? Well, it's not completely exculpatory, but it does suggest that he's not in competition with the people who's images he uses -- it's not as if a sale of one of his Rasta paintings (which, by the way, I too think is among his weakest work) means one less sale of Cariou's work. On the contrary, it would probably have brought far more attention to Cariou than he would have gotten otherwise, and would almost certainly have bumped up the value of his photos. As it stands, it looks like "no harm, no foul" to me.

More generally, there's a level of vitriol in many discussions of Prince's work that I find frankly bewildering. -- No so much here, but on, for example, the "A Photo Editor" website. If Cariou can get some money out of him, great (and Prince, like a lot of artist who use appropriation, has paid off the people whose work he's used before). But the auto-da-fe that seems to have resulted can only have a chilling effect on artists, and it bothers me.

Finally, let me just say that I too make art, and some of it is stolen -- pirated -- and some of it is given away; and I've occasionally been plagiarized outright, in a far more blatant and shameless way than anything Prince has done. And I have to say, it bothers me a little, but not very much. If someone can steal from me and make something creative and new out of it, God bless 'em; if they steal from me and make something crappy, then it'll soon disappear, and I care even less.

This is actually a quite damning statement on the contemporary art world. The gallery system actually ordained Prince and his art. This guy is for real in the eyes of the contemporary art establishment. The Gagosian gallery is major, major, major and Larry Gagosian is a prime arbiter of taste and value. He colluded in this. It really ought to put the fear of God into collectors who trusted these folks.

What surprised me most was that Prince obviously had virtually no artistic ambition in these works. I actually thought he "meant" something by doing this stuff. Silly me.

BTW, I have no problem with what Richard Prince is doing PROVIDED he notifies the photographer ahead of time, cuts a deal for a percentage of the profits, and attributes the 'base' work correctly in the information. I might think his 'work' is lame, but heck, if he's getting paid for it, and greases the rest of the 'base contributors', well: what me worry? I object to his laziness of stealing the stuff without contacting the individuals and cutting the deals, He knows what he's doing is wrong, and easily rectifiable; I'm just not buying his sad-sack story. As I understand it, after the 'blow-up' over usage rights on sampling in the rap music world, they ALL contact and pay rights to use the bits and pieces now, so why is Richard Price stupider, or less informed, than they are?

Thank JSL for saying pretty much what I wanted to say, and your last paragraph is something I understand perfectly.

This man is phenomenally lacking in ethics. Hearing Richard Prince explain why he steals photographs reminds me of bank robber Willie Sutton's famous explanation for why he robbed banks: "because that's where the money is."

Has our culture become so bored or lazy or so in search of the "easy button" that he is viewed as a genius?

Mr. Benas:

Most people who buy investment-level art use the following parameters:

1) Price.

2) Advice of art experts.

3) Personal esthetic preferences.

IMO the factors are in the order of usual importance. However, whether or not they are, the thing is that a very large consideration in buying investment-level art is what experts are telling you the current fair price is and what the probable future price will be.

Does this remind you of anything?

People buy investment-level art for many of the same reasons they buy financial investments like stocks and bonds: because somebody they trust told them it was a good idea and they'd probably make some money. Very few wealthy people do all their own investment research: that's why they pay their advisors! I'm not saying Gagosian et al are the Madoff Investments of the art world, but I'm sure you can see how a parallel might be drawn. ;)

It truly is unfortunate that there was no future for the likes of this creep. This is what Prince considers " unsuccessful":

Gagosian had sold eight of the Canal Zone paintings for a total $10.48m, 60% of which went to Prince, with the remainder to the gallery. Seven other paintings were exchanged for art “with an estimated value between $6m and $8m,” according to court papers. Gagosian gallery also sold $6,784 worth of exhibition catalogues.


The artworld Robber Barons rake in the bucks while the workaday artisans/serfs do all the heavy lifting. Enough is enough.

Yuanchunglee: the Walker Evans photo is a shop window display. Evans wasn't stealing another artist's work because that artist made a conscious decision to make his work public. Cariou did no such thing and there is absolutely NO equivalence between the two - outside of the photographic process itself.

The rest of your argument is equally circular and tortuous. Art and law are both social contracts. Calling something "art" does not absolve it of all legal, ethical, and social obligations.

JSL: if it is so clear to audiences that Prince is appropriating the work of others, a claim that itself is hard to prove but let's grant for the sake of argument, why doesn't the work simply acknowledge the original creators and reimburse them accordingly? In every other commercial pursuit, and Prince's work is most certainly that, this is the standard to which compliance is not optional.

We are so awash in appropriation and outright theft that a little "chilling effect" would be a good thing. What's notable about Prince's appropriation of Cariou's work is how blatant and uncreative it is and the perverse inverse relationship between effort, creativity and vision to financial and professional success.

And a further irony: the Dada impulse that is the spark for most appropriation ends up not killing Art, as it intends, but only reinforces it when the siren song of cold hard cash dashes the best of intentions against the rocks of the material world. So much for the transcendence of Art.

As an artist of some considerable repute, Prince would have done himself a favour to ask permission from the photographer whose work he was appropriating. Unfortunately nobody has won out of this case. Not Prince nor the gallery nor the photographer nor the clients.prince has done something disreputable and will go down in history as other peoples work. He would have done better to buy the prints from the photographer and paint on them, not copy them.

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