The Principle of Utility

“The greatest good for the greatest number.”

In the television show, ‘Scandal’, the President of the United States may be forced to resign his position after being accused of extramarital affairs. Unbeknownst to the American public, the POTUS is in fact in love with the former press secretary of the White House, main character Olivia Pope. As rumors swirl about possible impeachment, the President decides to admit to his indiscretions and officially resign so that he can divorce his wife and be happy with Olivia. Olivia, who is in love with the President as well, considers his resignation and their possible life together, but then realizes that she must sacrifice her love and happiness for the sake of the American people. These scenes spoke volumes about the principle of utility and the sacrifices and agenda setting that all parties involved made for the President to stay in office.

• Regular People – clip–grant-for-the-people/regular-people

• First Lady Sacrifices – clip

• Go Be the Man I Voted For – clip• Regular People – clip


An interesting take on how art inspires us.

Artist accused of stealing beauty

by Andrew Taylor

STRIKING images borrowed from earlier art works and advertising are a hallmark of Dennis Ropar’s art.

But the Melbourne pop artist, who has engaged in flamboyant stunts such as painting a near-naked woman and illegally parking a truck to promote his work, has been criticised for overstepping the line with one image from his Mexico series of portraits.

Ropar’s Mexico #9 bears a remarkable resemblance to Spring Muertos, a photograph of a make-up artist, Lisa Naeyaert, taken by the American photographer Gayla Partridge in November 2008.

Partridge’s photo is one of four images depicting Naeyaert as part of her Muertos Seasons series. Other portraits in Ropar’s Mexico series appear similar to images of Naeyaert in the Muertos Seasons series.

Partridge discovered Ropar’s work after she was contacted by Jess Pryles, a client and friend who saw the image online.

Ms Pryles also complained to the Jackman Gallery and posted images of both works on Facebook.

”Blatant plagiarism of the original image by Melbourne artist Dennis Ropar, who claims it’s original work,” Ms Pryles wrote underneath Ropar’s art work.

However Partridge, who owns photography business 666photography in Austin, Texas, declined to say whether she believed Ropar had plagiarised her work.

”We have had other artists create homages of our work in the past,” she told The Sun-Herald. ”These artists have contacted us and have requested permission, or at the least provided credit for the inspiration.

”In this case, this did not occur. 666photography encourages people to look at both pieces side by side and form their own opinion.”

Ropar did not respond to The Sun-Herald’s questions on whether he had used Partridge’s art without her permission. ”I’m not going to defend myself,” he said, adding: ”I don’t give a f*** about what you write.”

A spokeswoman for Jackman Gallery, which exhibits Ropar’s art work, also declined to comment.

The gallery website described Ropar as ”an artist who is a master showman, willing to take risks and explore many themes and oeuvres”.

Associate Professor Merilyn Fairskye, of the Sydney College of the Arts, said she was surprised Partridge’s work had been used: ”The original is so cheesy I’m astounded anyone would want to plagiarise it – because this is what this is – a clear case of plagiarism.

”There seems to be no raison d’etre for the borrowing of this image – no irony, no questioning of originality, authenticity or authorship.”

She said using another artist’s work was a recognised artistic method, but it could be highly controversial.

Ropar’s Mexico #9 artwork may also be an infringement of Partridge’s copyright.

The executive director of the Arts Law Centre, Robyn Ayres, said: ”Copyright is infringed if an artist uses the whole or a substantial amount of someone else’s work without their permission.”

However, Ms Ayres said an artist did not generally require permission from someone to reproduce an image of them.

Hollywood: Paying homage vs. Laziness?

I am a bit of a geek when it comes to Hollywood. Especially when talking about movies and music—I’m a bit of a trivia queen. I think that’s why I love the show ‘Family Guy’ so much. Seth MacFarlane will have one of the main characters of ‘Family Guy’ throw in some obscure little quip about my favorite movie ‘Amadeus’, or reenact a scene from a Charlie Chaplin movie, and I’ll be rolling on the floor in laughter. All the while, my niece and nephew will be looking with a puzzled look on their face, only because they are too young to get the joke—or haven’t seen the movie yet.

Under circumstances like that, I believe that copycat scenes and lines are brilliant and pay tribute (even in jest) to movies and creative projects of yore. However, there are some directors and animators who unashamedly reproduce the exact same shot angles or drawings that are used in previous films. I will be posting a series of photos towards the end of this blog post. I’d love to hear back from you about which ones are credible tributes or just absurd copies. Even when I look at the series of photos from Quentin Tarantino’s movies, I’m torn because that it obviously an angled shot that Quentin Tarantino is known for in his films. When I think of Spike Lee, he uses an escalator type approach for all of his characters—where they are so zoned out and focused on what’s ahead of them as they walk on the street, that they look as if they are suspended in air. So, I understand the repetitiveness in certain styles with certain directors. But the Disney movies that I’ve shown below? That’s just plain laziness. Were animators on strike when ‘All Dogs Go to Heaven’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ came out? As always your thoughts are welcomed!

“Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea.”

-Guy Debord

What’s New Is Always Old

by Alva Noë / Photo courtesy of Larry Busacca, Getty Images

Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work as your own. It is an act of deception. Not every failure fully to disclose my background, feelings, sources or inspiration is deceptive. For not every failure to disclose will invite you falsely to understand who I am and what I am doing. Deception, like any communicative act, requires very special stage setting.

It’s useful to remember this when considering recent charges of plagiarism against Bob Dylan and Beyoncé Knowles. In both cases, the accusations are baseless (which is not to say that intellectual property rights may not be at stake; that’s a separate matter).

As Newsweek art critic Blake Gopnik reminds us in connection with the Dylan case, painters as diverse as Degas, Matisse, Warhol and Richter have made use of unnamed photographs in their painting practices. Dylan is just participating in what is really a common practice in modern painting. Complaining that the images derive from pictures is a bit like complaining that an artist’s finished product resembles the real people he used as models in the studio.

There is also a deeper point: painting as an art is always, up front and on its surface, concerned with precisely the question of painting as a medium. This is not a recent thing. Some people worship painted icons. Other insist that to do so is heresy; a picture, after all, is never more than a trifling product of earthbound handicraft. What is a painted picture by an artist? And what is its relation to its “prototype?” Contemporary artists continue to grapple with these issues endlessly. (Consider, for example, Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s photographic remaking of Holbein paintings.)

Painting, and art in general, has its own distinct communicative setting, and the idea that Dylan can be accused of deception, or plagiarism, in that context, is downright silly. We need to look elsewhere — and I suspect we don’t have far to look — if we want to criticize his work as painting.

The Beyoncé case is more delicate, if only because “Countdown” is a pop-music video likely to be seen millions of times over by people who have no clue that she liberally samples from Rosas danst Rosas, a work by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, a major contemporary choreographer (or rather, that she borrows from a dance-for-film version of de Keersmaeker’s work by the French film director Thierry de Mey). It is difficult not to consider this case in the light of the fact that dance, even in Europe, where funding is much better than it is here, tends to be noncommercial and culturally marginal.

You can sympathize with the choreographer who may simply want the acknowledgment that she has been seen, that her work is noticed. De Keersmaeker is quoted in The Guardian as saying: “What’s rude is that they don’t even bother about hiding it. They seem to think they could do it because it’s a famous work … Am I honoured? Look I’ve seen local school kids doing this. That’s a lot more beautiful.”

One thing is clear: no one could watch Beyoncé’s video carefully and not see that the scenes that directly refer to de Keersmaeker arrive with quotation marks around them. The phrases from de Keeersmaeker and de Mey are inserted (sampled) as if from another artistic landscape into the very different space that Beyoncé and her dancers have been occupying; there is something even flashback-like about the sequences, as though Beyoncé’s persona is hearkening back to her own dance-school background.

It is because Rosas danst Rosas has a life and importance outside the context of its performance by de Keersmaeker’s company in Belgium that it can serve, unnamed, as it does for Beyoncé, as part of the streaming background for her own imaginative play.

It’s also worth noticing that Beyoncé’s engagement with dance and its history is longstanding. Her video for Single Ladies surely one the best pop-music videos ever — is replete with references to the steps of Bob Fosse, as well as to classical dance. Dance and its history provides an image scape against which Beyoncé does her thing.

Does Beyonce’s exemplification of de Keersmaeker’s ideas enhance their value, or diminish them? Is there a legal case to be made here? I leave that to the legal experts. But about this question there can be no doubt: Beyoncé did not commit plagiarism.

But our discussion cannot end here. Anxieties about plagiarism can seem to have a new urgency in our era in which ideas, images, thoughts and inventions are so easily reduced to data strings that can be transmitted, reproduced and manipulated with little cost and effort. “Sampling” is the word we now use to refer to the practices of assembling and recombining words, song and movement of others in new ways to make something new out of something old.

Sampling is nothing new, not in art, and not in life. Every time you use a word or phrase you are, wittingly or not, making a pastiche out of the linguistic gestures of those who came before you. Evolution, whether in biology, or in technology and culture, is never anything other than a redeployment of old means in new circumstances. We use the old to make the new and the new is always old.

In the absence of direct intention to deceive, plagiarism has nothing to do with this.

Replicas for the Masses, Replicas Galore

Sometimes I feel as if everything that surrounds me is just a recycled idea—especially in the supermarket. As I go down the aisle looking for laundry detergent, I see products that basically accomplish the same task. But because one product uses one percent more bleach or has an April fresh scent, it’s deemed an entirely new product. Even detergents that have been around for years are forced to recalibrate their product for the masses. In the corner of the laundry box somewhere you see a big neon star that is stamped ‘New and Improved!’ There’s nothing wrong with companies putting their own twist on an existing concept and profiting from it, so should the industry of art be held to the same standard?

There is an entire business that profits off of the original creations of world-renowned artists. The novelty gift called ‘Paint by Numbers’, which provided step by step guidance on how to recreate classic works such as Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, has bulldozed its way into the arena of mass production.

Want an original Picasso? Have no fear—there is a dutiful artist, or should I say factory worker, who is patiently waiting for John and Jane Q. Public to submit their request for a painted replica of a Picasso painting at the rock-bottom price of a guesstimated $200. These places are in shopping malls and are called ‘Painted with Oil’. I was so surprised to go bargain shopping for a timeless painting that has been reproduced at any size.

Perhaps you want to try and paint Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ on your very own? There are actual videos on YouTube and videos for sale that give you step by step instructions on how to trace Van Gogh’s composition, which brushes to use, and what areas to paint to complete “your” masterpiece. I wonder if the art barn actually uses those instructional videos to work more efficiently to churn out dozens of replicas every week. Is there honor in that? Shouldn’t those artists who recreate pieces be credited for their technique and precision? Have YOU ever purchased a painting that you know is a phony?

“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.” – Dean Inge

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