Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dave Gibbons still defending comics from Roy Lichtenstein's thieving ways

 Gibbons on Lichtenstein
On Sunday night, BBC4 broadcast WHAAM! Roy Lichtenstein at Tate Modern, Alistair Sooke's documentary focused on the career-spanning retrospective of the pop art giant currently running at the London gallery. Here's the link to the full documentary, running for a week on BBC's iPlayer.

At the 35 minute mark, artist Dave Gibbons turns up to debate with Sooke on the age-old issue of Lichtenstein's plagiarism from comic books, all while standing in front of Lichtenstein's WHAAM!, the painting appropriated from a panel by Irv Novick. Gibbons makes a spirited case for the superiority of Novick's original image over Lichtenstein's, while the host Sooke argues for Lichtenstein, all the while thumbing a-little-bit-too dismissively through an issue of DC's All-American Men Of War #89.  Sooke's main argument for the superiority of the pop artist's work over the comic artist is that his researcher picked up a ragged back issue of the original for under six pounds, while if WHAAM! went to auction, it would sell for tens of millions of dollars. To Gibbon's credit, he states he'd take the six quid comic over the multi-million bucks canvas. I dunno Dave, $45 million could buy an awful lot of comics. Or sports cars.

For a full take-down of Lichtenstein's thievery from comics, there's always David Barsalou's Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein. I don't think there's a single panel in that collection that doesn't contain more power and dynamism in its execution than Lichtenstein's "transformation" of them.


Paddy Brown said...

To be fair, based on what Sooke said, taking the power and dynamism out of the drawings was how Lichtenstein transformed them. He deliberately took something with meaning, however cheesy or shallow, and transformed it into something with no meaning. Don't ask me why.

DeadSpiderEye said...

You really need to examine the label itself, -art- what is it exactly? Well the definition for that is easy despite the eclectic connotations that have arisen round the word its: Anything material fabricated by a human or humans. So: plastic spoons, cars, intravenous drips, Allen bolts, Saturn 5 rockets, aspirin, milk cartons, jewellery made from precious gems, swords, gunpowder, magnesium allow wheel rims -- these are examples of art. Obviously collectively we place more or less value on particular examples of art depending on a number of factors. The obvious one being, how much effort does it take to make it, a plastic spoon doesn't take much effort in the industrialised world but if you had one in 1473 you'd be a rich man. There's the clue to another of the factors we use to place value on art, its uniqueness, ie how close it to being unique? Art as a whole not unique, not in the least, it's prodigious, but when it comes to those examples we value not for their utility but their aesthetic appeal we tend to select certain items from the truly staggering array available for special attention. The criteria we use for this selection is at the heart of the Lichtenstein case.

So how do we make this selection, why was Sarah Moon such a ubiquitous sight on living room walls in the 1970's but so rare now? Why do the Frazetta's coffee stained Bristol board sketches sell for enormous sums while the efforts of a struggling but equally brilliant student remain unsold? Why is Lichtenstein deemed serious art, worthy of edification but the material he plagiarised worthless to those who deem such? Again the answer is simple we don't make these selections based on any intrinsic artistic worth because there isn't one, the value we place on art has more to do with the its associations and Lichtenstein epitomises the relation between status and art.

You can't sell a comic to an art critic, he/she is not equipped to appreciate it but you can get the art patrons they serve to part with enormous sums for intrinsically worthless material if they perceive it to be unique. Lichtenstein was equipped to perform such a task and it's that, that makes his work valuable. The comic artists were not, there is no avenue in to the -high art- market for these people because, they, for the most part, are too focused, they don't have the temperament to pander to esoteric considerations.