“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.”
─ Paul Gaugin
“Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery.”
─ Charles Caleb Colton
My wife Ptarmi & I are building a new house this year on a lakeside lot we bought more than ten years ago. It will be our final home, where we finish raising our kids and someday retire.
The new house will have a few more rooms than our current home. Art and decorative objects are important to us, so over the years we put aside some money for an art budget for the new house, and we’re excited that we finally will get to use it. It’s not a big budget, but we hope it’ll be enough to add items that will expand and update our current collection.
Last month, I was in New York City and had the chance to visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). On past visits, I marveled at the paintings by famous 19th and 20th century artists, but this time, I was fascinated more by lesser-known 20th and 21st century abstract and surreal sculptures and installations. Inspired by what I saw at MoMA, I searched for furniture that also serve as art objects for our new home. Two pieces that I really like were created by the design team Front and sold by a European furniture and lighting company, Moooi:
Unfortunately, the rabbit lamp costs over $500, and the pig table more than $2,500. Rather than busting our modest art budget, I decided to improvise with a Do-It-Yourself project. I found a white rabbit lamp for a child’s room that I spray painted black and replaced the original white lampshade with a black outer/gold inner paper lampshade custom-made to my specifications by an on-line webstore. For the pig, I painted black a rustic kitchen décor item we weren’t using and drilled two screws into its back to secure a black plastic plate I bought for under $5 at a craft store.
I set my pig dish and bunny lamp on a black table from Ikea ($7.99). Ptarmi contributed to the project by giving me a cast resin black dog she had bought at a closeout sale. I arranged the animals as a loose reference to a statue commemorating the Bremen town musicians:
The final result:
Total cost of the project: $350. The project is not so much an installation but rather an assemblage of components, none of which have much practical value alone. Together, they create visual impact, whether the viewer personally likes the piece or not.
It will be a few more months before the house is finished and the assemblage placed in its intended spot. If anyone asks, I’ll say I made it, having been inspired by several primary sources. But aside from the question of whether the assemblage is any good from a design perspective, I wonder whether it’s really original: aren’t some of the components just crude copies of someone else’s design? If this were a written work, would I be accused of plagiarism?
Many of the modern installation works I saw at MoMA contained components that were “found”: items that other people might have thrown away that the artist incorporated into the art. The artists gave no attributions to the original manufacturers or designers of these items.
By showing the original sources for each step of my work, I might be accused of imitating/copying/plagiarizing other people’s ideas. But if I don’t bother to show my sources, perhaps I’m actually an inspired artist who built on the works of others who came before me, like furniture by the design team Front and folktales by the Brothers Grimm? Great is the temptation to commit quiet acts of omission!