Thoughts on Jonathan Lethem’s piece, The Ecstasy of Influence and Joy Garnett and Susan Meiselas’ piece, On The Rights of Molotov Man:
In a world that has never been larger nor more connected, news, ideas, and cultural influences have become a common currency, shared freely and without barriers. With the rise of Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram and other media sharing sites, everyone is becoming an auteur, and perhaps more vitally, a collagist. In order to truly be an individual in this overly connected world, the artists that are embracing the truth around them, soaking it up and articulately recapitulating it within their own fields of direct influence are those that are standing out the most. As a result, the path to individuality within the arts is not found within seclusion, but in midst of the masses. Artists have always been vehicles of expression for the contemporary surroundings within which they create. They are capable of extracting the necessary influences from the present and past, and commenting on them through their own modernity.
Cover songs in music are not an attempt at remanufacturing the same sound and intent of the author, but a re-contextualization; they are bringing in different communities of influence. As a result, a song like Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” sounds completely different coming from Jimi Hendrix. Is it less worthy because the original composer wasn’t Hendrix himself? Hardly. In fact Dylan, who has been openly known to appropriate himself, deemed Hedrix’s rendition of his work to be a better overall arrangement, and so has adopted its stylistic leanings ever since. As a result, an appropriation of an appropriation is born. Lethem ads,
“Finding one's voice isn't just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. 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.”
Speaking of chaos, we are brought to painter Joy Garnett and photographer Susan Meiselas’ piece On The Rights of Molotov Man. Within its context, the Molotov Man and his struggle for independence are contextually linked to the change in power in Nicaragua. When his image of rebellion, revolt and violence are taken out of said context, new, alternate meanings can be created, amplified and distorted with welcome artistic mutations. By doing so, new worlds are built and wouldn’t exist were it not for their reimplementation outside of their original origins. Despite Ms. Meiselas's belief in the necessity of contextual integrity within her piece, appropriations of her iconic image were decontextualized and used for disparate and occasionally opposing platforms, without her consent. But as Lethem writes,
"whatever charge of tastelessness or trademark violation may be attached to the artistic appropriation of the media environment in which we swim, the alternative—to flinch, or tiptoe away into some ivory tower of irrelevance—is far worse. We're surrounded by signs; our imperative is to ignore none of them"
Meiselas' image may not encapsulate the purity of the moment in which she witnessed, documented and reproduced through her work, but it's repeated and successful re-contextulization is proof of the image's overall power. It's message may have mutated from carrier to carrier, but it's integrity as a powerful emblem, a symbol has not changed.