Photo: W Magazine-Baloon Venus by Jeff Koons

“Good artists copy, great artists steal”

And Jeff Koons seems to get that

Pablo Picasso once said: Good artists copy, great artists steal. Jeff Koons seems to take that advice to heart. In the last few years he has almost got more copyright infringement claims than Vermeer ever made paintings. But what are we really whining about?

By George Vlug | @byvincent_ |

Define creativity

Does it make Jeff Koons less of an artist, now we know he ‘steals’ the works of other creatives by times. I beg to differ. The answer is in how you please to define creativity. Maybe even in how you define art.

I believe there is great truth is the words of Picasso: “ good artists copy, great artists steals”. He didn’t meant that one should paint over other one’s signature. He meant you could shop for inspiration in the creative works of minds alike. There’s no harm in that, as long as you try to make it your own.

An artist should not always be judged by his use of techniques nor the level of difficulty in making a work, but rather for the story he tells.

Let’s introduce another great icon in art history; Marcel Duchamp. Jeff is tributary to this great conceptual artist.

Duchamps Fountain shocked the art industry, but he stood his ground, defensing the idea that art is bigger than just the object presented. Besides the furious headwind, he wanted to show that there is art in changing perspective and challenging the intellect. With his unconventional practice he pointed out the limitations, of what he called retinal art (art that was only visual).

In 2004 The Fountain was selected as “the most influential artwork of the 20th century” by 500 renowned artists and historians.

The Fountain by Marcel Duchamp (1917)

If Duchamp and his readymade’s thought us anything, it would be that art is not in the craft or the skills you showed making a piece, nor even in the object you present. True art is in the way that you present it. As an artist you are a storyteller. Your job is to appeal to people. So as long as it’s appealing, why should you give a damn about how it’s made.

Marcel Duchamp fought the art avant-garde for acceptance of a new movement in art. One could think the claims against Jeff Koons are like a step in a time-capsule. Well, maybe it is. After all, it is safe to say there is a difference between the practice of Koons and just stealing something.

Steal and recreate

Stealing something, in my opinion, would be when you paint over other one’s signature. When you simply present a work of art made by others as your own. That’s not what Koons is doing. He is taking someones concept, and recreates it from out his own perspective. He gives it a bit of Koons-juice so to speak. When showed, you will directly know it is a Koons you’re looking at.

Judge for yourself by the Fait d’hiver case:

The original image by Franck Davidovici for NAF-NAF (1985)
The copy by Jeff Koons (1988)

Anyhow, Koons is being accused for a lot of things lately. He would be a copycat, a commercial sell-out at least. Well, I wouldnt’ be too bothered, it puts him in a great line of artists like Rembrandt van Rijn, Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, who were all told the same.

The obligation of talent

There is however, one recent activity of Koons that bothers me. No copyright infringements this time, but his collab with H&M. As a Koons-fan I must admit, together they produced the most uninspired piece of crap one could hang over his shoulder.

Results of the Koons/H&M collaboration: A puppy covered satchel.

We, the people, allow artist like Koons to be populair, to make art for a living and earn a good buck. There’s a reason for that. It’s not because we like them so much, or love to see their faces in the papers, but it’s because we think they have great talent, because we are dazzled by the amazing works of art they produce. I think that should come with some obligations.

For me, not spending their effort in making art for the public to enjoy, is more like theft than any of the infringement claims so far.

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