Collage is a flexible, satisfying art form. It’s particularly gratifying for artists who are not illustrators. Using the vast palette of magazines, journals, books, graphic novels, and newspapers, we create stories, convey emotions and display ideas.
The issue of copyright lurks in the background. Those images might be someone else’s. Early photographers faced similar issues– photographers who took pictures that included buildings were told they needed to get permission first. And before we shrug that away as ancient art history, it was not too many years ago that the first camera phones caused concern because people were secretly taking pictures in bars without permission. Now the pictures arrive on YouTube for the world to see, no permission needed. In our culture, sampling is part of creating music. Open source information gave us Wikipedia. The collaging of experience, ideas and words, gives us new songs and books. But sometimes time and contents aren’t in balance. In 1916 Heinz von Lichberg wrote about a traveler who rents a room as a lodger and is smitten with the young daughter of the homeowner. “Young” is the operative word here; she is not yet a teenager. A child molester? A story worth tipping off Dateline NBC? Not quite. The young girl’s name was Lolita, and so was the title of the book. Surprised? I was, too. It was published a full 40 years before Vladimir Nabokov’s novel made the name Lolita famous–and vice versa. Johnathan Lethem, in an article in Harper’s, says, “Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. . .” So life imitates collage. We hear and see snippets of information and they become the wallpaper of our lives. In May of 1996 folksinger/songwriter Bob Dylan wrote “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” which contained the much-discussed line, “To live outside the law you must be honest.” Oddly enough, it caused no raised eyebrows at all eight years earlier, when Stirling Silliphant wrote almost the same words for Don Siegel’s film noir, The Lineup.
So the collage artist stands in the middle of a loud, chaotic life with scissors and glue. We make sense of it by cutting it apart and reassembling it so that others can recognize it and make meaning of it. Maybe we need to give up the idea of exclusive ownership based on lawsuits.
Maybe it’s time to take another look at copyright. Creative Commons seems like a good alternative worth exploration.
–Quinn McDonald is a collage artist and certified creativity coach who is thinking through a sharing system based on honesty instead of lawsuits. She did the collage above. See her work at QuinnCreative.