'Good artists copy; great artists steal," said
A group of art intellectuals who have questioned the originality of a performance to be staged by
Before we ponder who owns the concept of nothing, let's take a detour to the dusty era of art prior to 1960. Because acquaintance with the old masters reveals that art has always been an exchange of ideas in which influence is not just omnipresent but proudly accepted. The story of art is one of homages, remakes, rivalrous borrowings.
Rembrandt's Self Portrait at the Age of 34 in
This kind of assimilation of models is fundamental to great art, from Titian finishing works by his own influences Bellini and Giorgione to Manet turning Titian's Venus of Urbino into his own provocative nude
What is originality in performance art? It seems to be inseparable from your own person, your own life. Abramovic claims to be original because of who she is - it is she, and no one else, who sits gazing into people's eyes at
Who was the first artist to confront nothing? Perhaps it was Kazimir Malevich when he painted
Behind this row lurks a deeper anxiety. As you can see from the dates above, the roots of today's most radical art lie in the first world war. Dada is about to celebrate its centenary. The entire edifice of contemporary art is built on the idea of total revolution, of things so new and challenging they are like a diamond bullet in your head. Yet it's all been done before. Originality has always been a complex phenomenon, and the more interesting and valid point those art historians could have made - rather than focusing on the individual, on Abramovic - is that advanced art in the 21st century now lives off the past in a way that is unhealthy, like some dead Byzantine culture which, paradoxically, worships the new. Art today is perpetually restaging ideas first enunciated in the 1960s or even the 1910s.
Best to keep quiet about originality and influence, art world, lest you draw attention to that 100-year-old Dada elephant in the room and the profoundly repetitive nature of art in our century - constantly trying to disguise its reliance on the iconoclasts of a century ago.
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