5 Things Appropriation

By Nicholas Nesbitt

Nicholas Nesbitt is a Johannesburg based creative specialising in Illustration, Digital Design and Sound Design. These are some of his latest illustrated ramblings. Enjoy :)


1. Authenticity is death

I have been thinking quite a bit about appropriation lately. Is appropriation stealing and how should I feel about it?

I think most people like the idea of “authenticity” but authenticity is also a kind of death. Things that are authentic belong in a museum, they are locked away in glass box never to be broken apart and reassembled. People that hold onto the idea of authenticity can become stuck in their ways.

That being said, I believe appropriation with out acknowledgement is stealing. This for me is the key. I really believe in the idea of remix and the continuation of a story. But what if the story is appropriated without credit being given to the originator?


2. What happens when they steal from you?

It is said that if someone steals from you it is one of the biggest compliments. And yes, influencing and inspiring someone is one of the greatest things you can do.

It reminds me of how obvious elements from the story line from Kimba The White Lion created by Osamu Tezuka were stolen by Disney and made into the Lion King. They changed a few elements, but in my view, it was blatantly ripped off. Disney to this day will not admit that Kimba was a huge influence on The Lion King.

Truth be told Tezuka’s work is very reminiscent of early Disney but, I believe Osamu Tezuka’s work is far more complex emotionally, narratively and illustratively to anything Disney has ever put out. I admire how he never really made a fuss about the whole Kimba thing, he just kept working on numerous other amazing projects right up until his death.

If the appropriation is not on such a grand scale try not get bitter, move on and work harder but, if it is blatantly stolen with no tip of the hat then I have a problem with it.

Big corporations do this all the time and I believe that if you have the ability to fight for your right to be acknowledged then you should. Use social media, use what ever power you have to make sure that you get credit where credit is due.


3. Learning by appropriation

When you are starting out as a musician you learn covers. Slowly you develop to writing your own songs and more often than not those things you covered influence your work. Is that stealing? No, I believe it’s learning but it is similar to appropriation.

I do believe that great artists steal, well maybe it’s more like aggressive borrowing. Tezuka himself was inspired by Disney’s animation style and this was one of the reasons he started drawing and stopped studying medicine. You could say he appropriated the Disney style and developed it for a Japanese audience.

The creative process is like a snow ball rolling down the hill picking up things as you roll. Sometimes you can't help but be influenced and sometimes you might not even know where sections of your creativity come from.

Life is not fair and part of it is learning that you can’t really own anything. Especially an idea. Sometimes when it’s blatant your followers might say, “Hey man you see someone cribbed your style?” I am like “Yeah, but in order for me to develop my style I had to crib loads of people’s styles”.

I think as long as you wear your influences like a badge of honour, it’s cool to have a tiny bit of your hero’s work shine through.

4. Give back what you stole

Appropriation is like evolution. The strongest and the most ruthless often survive. In the digital age it’s the people who own platforms now that have this power.

It can be done in the colonial way of ‘lets rape and pillage and then pretend it never happened’ or, as creatives we can try be ethical about it.

We have to make sure the powers are held accountable. We should work to the ideal where we can all agree that we can’t own an idea, that the idea is always developing and the story is always being revised. We still need to somehow try to remember who came before us and credit appropriately.


5. Make yourself unique

The core values you have make your work yours. If you are secure in yourself and what you are doing nobody can steal that from you.

It brings me back to one of my all time hero’s Osamu Tezuka who, through his life, drew over 150 000 pages of comics. Thats like drawing 10 finished pages of comics a day and I am not even talking about the animations he completed before his death at the youthful age of 60.

I know that I will never reach anything like that in my lifetime but there is a lesson in that. The shear magnitude of his work makes him incomparable to anyone or anything else. In that sense he is untouchable.

Keep your head down and make so much work, practicing your skill and defining your style, that you become unmistakably unique whatever your influences, appropriations or stolen bounty. That is really the greatest power you have as an individual creator.

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