Can you create new art using somebody else’s art?
I think it is a pertinent question and one that the now closed exhibition, Itinerario P., at Galleria28 PdP, brought to the forefront. Franco and Matilde Cenci used Pino Pascali, his art and his era, to create new art. Partly in memory of Mr. Pascali but mostly to create art that honours a lost decade, the sixties.
That exhibition is just a point of departure for this blogpost, what I am about to say is not directed to them particularly, but is about art in general.
The simple answer to the question in the headline, is yes. The more complicated answer is yes, if you do it well enough. To be complete, this answer requires a dive into a far more difficult inquiry – what is art – and not least, what is good art? For how can you determine if something is done well if you have no parameters by which you can measure its quality?
I’ve thought about this since the vernissage of Itinerario P., and I decided I wanted to write about it. I would be very keen to learn what other people are thinking. For me it’s like this: I think art is energy, and the quality depends, in part, on how strong or how weak the energy it produces, is. It can be an energy that makes you want to throw up, literally, Damien Hirst comes to mind, or it can be energy that makes everything around you seize to exist and all that matter is the beauty of that piece of art you are engaged with. But it is energy that provokes something in you and, bottom line, that is what makes art into art.
Consequentially, nothing impedes you from creating such energy by using other people’s art – at least not as long as you pay them due respects for the sake of decency. After all, if you don’t manage to produce the energy, it’s like having written a biography even if you set out to write a novel.
But then there’s another element to the quality of art. The energy produced by art interacts with the feelings and emotions in the audience and its quality depends not only on how strong the energy is, but also what feelings and emotions it evokes Think of your feelings and emotions like strings inside you, much like the strings of a cello, spun from your head to your feet. In the front, you’ll find a myriad of light, easy to catch strings; these are feelings that are easy to get hold of. In the back, there are thicker, but hidden strings, these are the emotions that it is much more risky, and therefore much more provocative, to play on.
Black and white versus colour-photography is a good example of how this works in practice. It is much more difficult, I think, to make good, artistic colour photographs than it is to make black and white pictures. Black and white photos immediately invoke nostalgia, regardless of what the motive is, and nostalgia is a feeling. Colour photography, need to be more specific, more acute, more deliberately aiming at other feelings, if they are to be good Try it out. Go outside and take a colour photo with your mobile phone. Save it, then add a black and white (or sephia) filter and compare the latter to the original version. Doesn’t the colourless photos immediately hint at art, irrespective of what they are about or of?
Really good art needs to be innovative, and the spectrum of feelings we all carry inside of us, is what artists have to play on. Good artist play on a variety of them, they find the hidden tunes and strike unknown chords within us, while mediocre artists rely on the obvious ones.
So art is recyclable, but even if you take your inspiration from times past, or find it in other people’s work, what eventually matters, is your own capacity as an artist to play well on our emotional chords. That is what determines the quality of your art.