Rather than viewing the mashup as a modern phenomenon, it could also be described as a modern and digital re-iteration of practises long used by artists from the past. From ancient Roman copies of Greek sculpture, to Raphael’s numerous quotes from sources as diverse as a Roman sarcophagus, a Memling portrait or a drawing by Leonardo. The determination of what constitutes influence, homage or direct plagiarism is a complex undertaking, with accompanying legal concerns raised since the fifteenth century.
A typically engaging post from Hasan Niyazi’s art history blog. It neatly presents a historical context for modern mashups.
Looking at someone else’s creative work sometimes provokes an artist into thinking what he or she would do with that same subject, or it inspires a new twist, or even the direct thought “Gee, if I ever need to draw the face of somebody shrieking their lungs out, I am definitely going to remember how da Vinci did it in his cartoon for ‘The Battle Of Anghiari’!”
Theft is theft, and when a lazy creator blandly copies the work of another, the work usually tells the tale within five seconds. But it’s no good to recognize an influence and then dismiss the second work without thinking any deeper. That reaction is ignorant of the creative process, and it’s contemptuously dismissive of the amount of hard work and innovative thinking that the original work inspires. George Lucas himself acknowledged that “A New Hope” was hugely influenced by Kurasawa’s “The Hidden Fortress.” But would anyone deny that Episode 4 is an original work?
Today, we all acknowledge that designing software and hardware is a creative, even an artistic, endeavor. That’s a welcome change in attitude. Engineers were once perceived as just a bunch of dull technicians ticking items off of a list of features and specifications under fluorescent lighting. Now, we often think of these men and women as artisans who want to make something that functions beautifully.
If we’re going to fully embrace this new perception, however, we need to acknowledge that the artistic process is universal, whether the thing the artist creates is a single painting or 10,000,000 phones. It’s the same in Jony Ive’s day as it was in Raphael’s. Software patents, as well as the most hysterical superfans of a platform, try to pretend that art is made in a vacuum and that ideas, like real estate, exist with firm boundaries and sole ownership. Hogwash on both counts.
Yes, theft is theft. Sure, a direct, lazy copy is easy to spot. But when Google pivots their new mobile OS away from keypads and towards multitouch after they see the iPhone, and then Apple changes the iPhone’s notification system after they see Android, they’re just following in the footsteps of the Old Masters. It’s fine.