Friday, September 23, 2016

Cornelius Parker, You Rascal You

Yesterday's post on set design reuse and attribution (HERE) has developed legs...

The story in Theater Jones (HERE) inspired another one at the Arts Integrity Initiative (HERE) with the perfect title:

"When a Tree Falls in Athens and Rises in Camelot, Whose Design is it Anyway?"

Most good designers understand the ethics of their branch of design instinctively (besides, where's the fun if you just steal another guy's design?), but it's worthwhile discussing these matters.  When is recycling and reuse fair and when is it theft?  What is plagiarism and what is inspiration?  How much "sampling" or borrowing is okay and how much is Too Much?

Fair questions.

And the answers are going to vary somewhat from one type of design to another.  For instance, using recycled or stock pieces is legit in theater design (and so eco-sustainable and budget-helpful that we should do it and have a tradition of doing it), but every ethical designer knows that means mix-n-matching bits from many shows then seriously rethinking and redesigning those pieces into a new, original - collaging - not just repainting and changing the designer's name.  Yeesh.  

But even other kinds of designers don't always understand theater design ethics.  Architect friends don't quite get the nuances... seeing as built buildings don't often pick up and move on (as sets or costumes often do).  In architecture it's more often a matter of "did your drawings get reused without agreement?" not "did that porch get trucked away?"  Even then it's looked at as a theft from the physical owner - like stealing a sofa - rather than as a theft from the designer... 

...unless the designer and building are very famous.  There are loud art/ethical questions about removing the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon or selling bits of Greene and Greene's Blacker House for profit and replacing them (in the house) with reproductions.  The DMA has the real front door.


The Dallas Museum of Art has such legalese copyright policy that, frankly, I'm frightened to use their photo here even with attribution on this fair-use-y post.  They don't seem worried about vulture-picking the carcass of that great artwork the Blacker House, but I bet they're pretty defensive of the copyright of the photo of their loot.  

Cornelius Parker?  He's the unethical (and imaginary) theater designer who reused a fellow designer's work without informed permission, appropriate payment, or full attribution.

Still a gorgeous tree. 

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