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Derivative Works Better!

Dylan the Painter-- by calin georgescu, cg@critix.ro

Derivative is usually the curse of small cultures. George Enescu, the greatest Romanian composer, is rather too Dvorakian in his compositions, so few outside his native land want to hear his melodic romanticism.

More established cultures love originality and dismiss derivative, especially when the derivative work points out upsetting features about their popular taste. The Brits did not enjoy Emanuel Litvinoff’s writings because they were based on T.S. Eliot’s. Although, Litvinoff’s well-written poems only alluded to and briefly mentioned the Nobel Prize winner’s anti-Semitic verse, while denouncing its abhorrence.

Arguably ours is an important culture. But we hold an idiosyncratic position in the debate between original and derivative. Here, derivative works better. For us, it seems that the more derivative the work, the more popular its appeal. Our children refuse to read Greek mythology unless they see a movie about a dyslexic boy who believes Mount Olympus starts on top of the Empire State Building and then they still skip the Greeks to become Rick Riordan fans.

Or, take Bob Dylan’s exact copying of someone else’s photograph, without even acknowledging his artistic debt. The sycophant in all of us praises Dylan. Let me be clear, better known journalists, such as Dave Itzkoff, abstain from labeling as plagiarism or theft Dylan’s identical taking of someone else’s protected work without mentioning the source.

Dylan did change the medium. Photographs were changed into paintings. For many people, as The N.Y.Times’ blog shows, Dylan refraining from taking his own pictures of existing pictures is sufficient proof that he is no ordinary thief. The Times only intimated that plagiarism is a matter of popular opinion. But, even if debatable, plagiarims is an issue legislators and justices like to agree to disagree on.

Surely, as Itzkoff deftly pointed out, the identically copied photos belonged to foreign authors, and I may add, they had French sounding names. So, if Dylan hadn’t plagiarized their work, most likely those Frenchies’ photos would have remained unknown to us. In fact, The N.Y. Times might have made a great point by adding that, because Dylan’s paintings were so slavishly derivative, they popularized the originals. Dylan’s lack of imagination and mindless copying brought the originals to our American attention!

DANA NEACSU

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