Remix In Visual Art

Image: Cover art for Everything is a Remix Part 1 video

If you’ve been on the Internets™ a while, you might’ve heard of a nifty little series of videos called Everything Is A Remix, where Kirby Ferguson takes a look at how a lot of music and movies borrow heavily from each other, sometimes to the point where copyright and trademark infringement becomes a matter of debate.

There are some pretty notable examples, such as Led Zeppelin’s music, which borrows almost verbatim in some cases from old blues songs, and the huge influence of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai on George Lucas’ Star Wars.

Of course, remixing is a huge part of the creative process. (Copy, transform, combine.) So much of what an artist creates in any medium is influenced not only by the world around him, but the work of other creators.

Monomyth

Again with Star Wars — it follows very closely the idea of Monomyth, which is the concept of a basic story that takes on about a dozen variations. In Star Wars, you have a young hero who goes on a journey, meets a wizard who gives him a special gift or ability, he has the blessing of a beautiful princess, and he defeats the black-clad villain in the end. It’s classic storytelling.

So how does this work in visual art?

Since I like to talk about visual art so much, let’s dive into some of the ways themes recur and are remixed from a two-dimensional perspective.

Madonna and Child

Two takes on mother (or Madonna) and child. One Renaissance, one modern. Two takes on mother (or Madonna) and child. One Renaissance, one modern.

This is one of the classic themes of all of Western art: some variation of mother and child, whether it is religious (depicting Mary and Jesus) or simply a mother and child. It’s probably one of the most emotionally charged themes. While Madonna and Child themes were common in the Renaissance, especially for Raphael, it was a huge part of Mary Cassatt’s work.

Landscape

Image: four of Monet's Rouen Cathedral Rouen Cathedral

Ones’ physical surroundings are a constant source of inspiration for many artists, whether various scenes, or repeated looks at the same scene in different kinds of weather. Claude Monet painted Rouen Cathedral in all sorts of weather and lights, and the result is extraordinary.

Self-portrait

Image: Self-portraits by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Andy Warhol Self-portraits by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Andy Warhol

Rembrandt probably popularized the self-portrait, but it’s been done forever: you are your own cheapest model.

Nudes/the female form

Image: The Human Body in Art: exploded, as a musical instrument, and as an expression of visceral physicality The Human Body in Art

There’s no denying the beauty of the human figure. It’s also easily distorted and sexualized, and can symbolize so many things. Shown here: Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, Man Ray’s Ingres’ Violin, and Jenny Saville’s Hyphen.

Las Meninas

Image: Velasquez' rendition of la Infanta Margherita, and Picasso's highly stylized remix Velasquez’ version on the left, Picasso’s on the right.

In 1958, Pablo Picasso created a series of 58 paintings that reinterpreted and/or recreated Velázquez’ iconic 1656 painting “Las Meninas.”

Dutch Masters

Image: recreation of a Rembrandt painting with modern photography

In recent years, I’ve seen quite a few attempts by photographers to recreate the iconic works of the Dutch Masters. It’s relatively easy nowadays to mimic Vermeer’s sumptuous lighting. Why not go all the way and recreate Vermeer’s paintings altogether? Or turn the Dutch Masters on their heads and swap class, race and gender within a form we are already familiar with?

Hipster Antiquities

Image: sculpture from the Louvre with modern hipster clothing (2013): skinny jeans, a fitted t-shirt, and Ray-Ban sunglasses

The most recent thing I’ve seen is Photoshopping modern hipster-style clothes onto classical sculptures. It’s a little silly, but at least it exposes the great sculptures in the Louvre to people who might not otherwise know this art even exists. What’s funny is those wooly beards and curled mustaches are right at home in today’s hipster culture.


  • bradblackman

    I got an email from my mom pointing out another variation on the “Madonna and Child” theme:

    I’m currently reading a novel called Mary Coin - inspired by the Dorothea Lange iconic photograph called “Migrant Mother.” …another Madonna and child photo.

  • bradblackman

    I got an email from my mom pointing out another variation on the “Madonna and Child” theme:

    I’m currently reading a novel called Mary Coin - inspired by the Dorothea Lange iconic photograph called “Migrant Mother.” …another Madonna and child photo.

  • mandythompson

    Oh this is a fun post. The hipster thing especially! And also: taking note of Picasso’s approach of variations on a theme. I need to dig deeper with a few of my favorite themes. (Not someone else’s themes, of course. I’m pretty sure that in today’s world, Picasso would’ve broken a copyright law.)

    • bradblackman

      Picasso supposedly said that good artists borrow and great artists steal… And I’m pretty sure he stole that from someone else.

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