BLOG #126 1/15/2016
No artist – no painter, photographer, musician, writer, actor, etc. – works in a vacuum, and only with extreme rarity creates work that is entirely original. Great artists overturn assumptions (think of Picasso, Stravinsky, James Joyce), but not without looking at the work of others.
All this is to say that when I saw this wonderfully graphic 1937 painting, “Thirty”, by the Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City about 20 years ago, I was struck by its graphic feel and inventiveness; I tucked it away for future reference. I knew I would find a way to utilize and apply, i.e. to “borrow,” this idea for some project on which I was working, and I was rather certain that that project would be dance. When I look at this image I see the elegance, energy, flying wildness and fluidity that is dance.
What do you think of and feel when you look at this piece of art?
A few years later I was planning to make photographs for the modern dance company, Moses Pendleton’s “MOMIX.” I previewed a performance of the company at the Joyce Dance Theater in New York City, and upon seeing the amazing company, the Kandinsky piece instantly came to mind. As an idea, it was perfect.
In my SOHO studio and with the Kandinsky piece in mind, I directed and photographed the MOMIX dancers for a full day. Black or white costumes as well as other ingredients (balls, ribbons, rings, etc.) were used in order to capture graphic shapes captured in ultra-high contrast black and white. Once I had made a substantial collection of images of the eight dancers and other “things,” I set to work to create my own graphic collage, “MOMIX,” with gratitude to the brilliant Russian.
It is important for budding artists to copy the good work of others in order to learn technique, which then can be used to create new, original work. This is a valid and useful exercise. On the other hand, exactly copying another’s work and taking credit for it is, of course, pure plagiarism. Alas, examples abound in the visual arts.
The “borrowing” of ideas in all human fields of endeavor is a constant in the advancement of all cultures. Over the millennia, the world has evolved in every field, from the discovery of the wheel and bow and arrow to the iPhone and a multitude of other inventions through the borrowing of ideas. This phenomena is inspiration and Kandinsky certainly did inspire me as I kept the image he made fixed in my mind.