Lesson 10 soulmaking appropriation and improvisation

Lesson 10
Soulmaking, Appropriation, and Improvisation
Learning Outcomes
By the end of the lesson, the students must be able to:
1. explain how meanings can be derived from art;
2. discuss how improvisation can make an artwork distinctive; and
3. identify the issues and problems that can arise because of appropriation of art.

Throughout history, art has played an integral role to capture, record, and communicate events,
activities, traditions, and even belief systems of various groups of people. Even Paleolithic societies have
found ways to record events despite the unavailability or limited access to various tools. In essence, art
has been an instrument to reflect the things and events that transpired in the past so that the future
generations can have a glimpse of that past. With the advent of technological advancements, societies
have improved the ways and means through which art can be a communicative tool. If an artwork is an
avenue for an artist to express narratives through symbols, then it follows that the artist is the author of
the work. But during the twentieth century, issues on ownership and authorship have emerged primarily
because of the value ascribed to the viewer of the work.
Soul-Making: Making and Deriving Meaning from Art
In order for humans to make sense of language and derive meanings from words, semantics and
grammatical rules are important elements to be considered. Aside from this, context and symbolisms are
also considered to interpret and analyze either oral or written works. When it comes to art, in order for
people to make sense of the work, it would require understanding the visual elements where art was
grounded on, especially the principles of design. It is important to note that the audience of the artwork
must have a certain level of awareness to the style, form, and content of the said work. Without such
understanding, it would be difficult to appreciate the visual arts in its fullness and entirety.
Style refers to the distinctive handling elements and media associated with the work of an
individual artist, a school, movement, or a specific culture or time period (Fichner-Rathus, 2013).
Throughout history, there have been developments in art styles that depict different and varied methods
of expression. Artworks also have a certain form. This form is what the audience sees—a finished product
put harmoniously (or not) according to the different principles of design. In essence, form is the totality
of the artwork, which includes the textures, colors, and shapes utilized by the artist. The content of an
artwork includes not only form but also its subject matter and its underlying meanings or themes (FichnerRathus, 2013). The perceiver of the artwork must take into consideration the totality of elements,
underlying themes and motifs, and composition.
Improvisation can be defined as doing something without prior preparation. There is a decision
to act upon something that may not necessarily be planned. Within the present context, improvisation
has become an integral part of the arts. Some would say that it is a reaction against the stiffness in the
arts during the twentieth century. There is a call for liberation from monotony that aims to rekindle the
creative spirits of people in the arts.
For some artists, infusing spontaneity and improvisation adds up to the totality of the work of art.
The unexpectedness of the changes brought about by improvisation makes of the artwork to have a
distinctive quality of the crafts its individuality and identity. Some of the artists subscribe to the idea of
the allowing chances in the process of producing the work. For example, artists would want to capture
the gloom brought about by an approaching storm or the beauty of meteor shower at night. Since they
do not necessarily have absolute control over natural phenomena, their reliance on chances may not
necessarily produce their expected outcome. Artists allowing their subjects do improvisation may have
totally different results as well.

When the artists make his work, he has an idea of the elements that will be included in his work.
For example, a painter would know would be included in his painting. But as he begins to craft his work,
he may have deviated from his original plan. So in essence, improvisation is evident in the process of
making the painting. During the 1900s, art improvisation has taken form in the galleries around New York
City. Performance arts, dance, and visual arts were combined to create new forms of artworks using a
new medium. These performances were known as the “Happenings” which later on paved the way for
modern body art and performance art. One of central figures in the improvisation movement was Georges
Matthieu. He started the “action painting “wherein the process is seen real-time. In this scenario, the
process is more important that the finished product.

Reading the News (1965)
Figure 1. Maria Minunjin Performance Art
Figure 1 above shows how improvisation allows for a certain extent of freedom for the artist to
improves and allow the subject to perform and embody the artwork itself. To a certain extent, it allows
the artist to explore and think about how the audience can actually be a part of the artwork in itself.
Improvisation may have been a revolutionary concept when it comes to art because it blurs the line of
reality and that of imagination.

Figure 2. An example of an action painting

For instance, if an artist created a painting and displayed it in a museum, who owns the artwork:
the artist or his intended audience? During the twentieth century, people started raising the question
whether or not the act of deriving meaning gives the ownership of the artwork to the viewer rather than
the artist himself. This notion paved the way for the emergence of appreciation artists who seem to
promote the idea that the authorship relies on the viewer. If this is the case, then appropriation artists
can take as much as he wants from an existing artwork.
Appropriation of art has been a common practice throughout history. In the past, if an apprentice
painter needs to hone his skills in his craft, he would be allowed to use his master’s work to copy. It is as
if the apprentice is trying to explore his personal application of techniques to something he is more
familiar with. However, there are some people who go to the extreme by believing that copying the exact
artwork of an artist and attributing it to his own. This could pose a problem especially with authorship.
The problem especially arises when the appropriation artist would get bits and pieces from other works
and incorporate these elements into his own work. In addition, when appropriation artists eschew the
responsibility for putting up the details of other works and integrating them into their own, their voices
and perspectives of the other artists get lost with that of the appropriation art and forgery. Traditionally,
forgery can be classified into two forms: outright copies of existing works and pastiches, which are works
that bring together elements from a work and infusing them to a new work. But in contemporary times,
forgery can be in the form of creating an approximate of what an artist would do by prediction. This can
be done by observing the techniques and style the artist employed and even the focal points highlighted
in his previous and existing works.
The intentions of the appropriation artists are often questioned since issues of plagiarism or
forgery sometimes arise. Some would argue that the reason behind the appropriation is that they want
the audience to recognize the images they copied. There is a hope on the part of the artist for the viewers
to see the original work in a new perspective. That appropriation would bring about a new context to the
original work. One of the most famous works of appropriation would have to be Andy Warhol’s “Campbell
Soup Can Series” (1961). Warhol copied the original labels of the soup can but can but deliberately filled
up the entire picture plane. The idea of putting together of the soup cans is something new for the
audience. Just like any product, the brand is integral to Campbell’s identity. As an artist, Warhol decided
to isolate the image of the product. This attempt could in turn stimulate product recognition. A common
viewer would associate the Campbell Soup with the portraits of the soup cans. This association would
bring about a certain kind of craving for the said product. In a way, it is a subtle form of advertising that
would entice the consumer to buy and patronize the product.

Figure 3 Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Can
Let’s Wrap It Up
When an artist creates something, there is a desire for him or her to elicit a certain kind of
response from his audience. To a certain extent, the artist is considered as the first and primary audience
of the work. There is this notion that art should be perceived as something that would engage and enrich
the experience of the audience as the artist tries to piece together all the elements grounded on design

rules. However, there have been art movements throughout history that tried to break away from the
norms of visual arts. Improvisations have led artists to find other medium and avenues to showcase their
creative expression. The certain level of freedom and creativity experienced in art can also lead to
appropriations. When it comes to art appropriation, there seems to be a debate whether or not something
is just an appropriation of an existing work or just plain forgery.

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