Macro Appropriation Investigation

Macro Appropriation Investigation

Appropriation can be understood as “the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work.” In the visual arts, to appropriate means to properly adopt, borrow, recycle or sample aspects (or the entire form) of human-made visual culture. Appropriation did not enter the art world until the early 1900s.  Since then this concept has been utilized during many art movements; Cubism, DADA, Fluxism, Modern and Contemporary Art.

  • How can I morph something ordinary or unnoticed into something extraordinary through appropriation?
  • In what ways can I recontextualize and alter the meaning of my artwork?
  • How can I drastically create a new piece of art using an existing drawing?

 Famous Works of Art That Feature Appropriation:

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, along with Braque, was one of the first artists to ever include a found object in a piece of art. Working during the art movement called Cubism, Picasso added a piece of chair canning (used to make chair seats) to an existing painting. This was revolutionary! Picasso added this “fake” element on purpose, not to confuse the viewer or audience, but rather to raise the question, “Can this object be art if I don’t actually render the form itself?” This painting was the birth of appropriation in art, and also of a specific art medium…. collage!

Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell was fascinated by found fragments of once precious items and worked to cohesively fill shadow boxes with objects he found in thrift stores all over New York City. He was essentially a collage artist working with three-dimensional forms and through the process of appropriation, created one piece of art out of many found objects. However, the meaning of his boxes are not clear. Joseph Cornell’s work is often considered part of the Surrealist art movement because the items placed in the boxes seem to be irrationally juxtaposed. His work between the 1940s-1960s was often highly regarded because it seemed to contain nostalgia. His work references things that once were.

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp could be considered the king of appropriation. Duchamp coined the phrase, “ready-made” and also used existing everyday objects to create new forms of art. However, Marcel Duchamp often did this in a much more controversial way. Duchamp once took a urinal, turned it upside down, wrote “R.Mutt” on it and then submitted it to be shown in a gallery. This created an uproar! Viewers of this work (named “Fountain”) began to say, “That is not art, he didn’t make anything!” That response is exactly what Marcel Duchamp wanted. He wanted the viewers of his work to question, “What is art?” and “Who decides what art is?” Through appropriation, Marcel Duchamp questioned the how we as individuals and a culture define art.

Below you will see Duchamp recontextualized the “Mona Lisa.” Do you think this is art?

Marcel Duchamp L.H.O.O.Q, Mona Lisa with moustache – Date: 1919.

Robert Rauchenberg

Robert Rauschenberg worked between the 1950’s and 1970’s to create paintings that included found objects. He was quoted as saying that he wanted to work “in the gap between art and life” suggesting he questioned the distinction between art objects and everyday objects, reminiscent of the issues raised in the DADA art movement. Rauchenberg wanted viewers to consider how the found objects in his paintings became and integral part of his piece. If you look below, you may not initially see the objects as 3D forms, but rather a design as part of a composition.


Robert Rauchenberg (American, 1925-2008). Gold Standard, 1964.

Roy Lichtenstein

Another way that appropriation has been utilized in famous works is through the emulation (copying) of classic styles and compositions.  As you saw above, Marcel Duchamp drew a mustache on a copy of the Mona Lisa. He used the a copy of the original artwork as a canvas. Below you will see the famous POP artist Roy Lichtenstein appropriated a famous painting by Van Gogh. Roy Lichtenstein modernized it by including decor from the 1970s and created it through the modern screen printing process. However,  the reference to Van Gogh’s original work couldn’t be more evident.

.File:Vincent van Gogh - De slaapkamer - Google Art Project.jpg

Van Gogh

Roy Lichtenstein




Macro Appropriation Investigation Objective:

I will closely observe the details of an everyday object, accurately represent it in a large scale format and then drastically alter the drawing through appropriation.

What Should I do First?

Select the object you would like to draw and bring that object in to class by the April 21st. Bringing the object in on time will be worth 5 points on the Sapphire gradebook.

What Surface I Use?

Painted Brown Paper

You will be working large scale on brown paper. You must first begin by painting the brown paper with acrylic paint and you may do this in any way that you’d like. This will serve as a background for your macro object.

Will your ground be abstract and include patterns, shape, lines, movement, contrast, texture, values?

Will your ground be representational and become an illustration of a person, place, or thing?

What Art Medium Should I Use?


You want to begin sketching your object using vine charcoal, then enhancing details of the object with charcoal pencils and/or white/gray conte. Make sure that the drawing is large – at least 3 feet (1 yardstick) wide OR tall. NO PENCIL! Just go for it!

Any other Art Medium

Only after you have realistically represented your small object in vivid detail using charcoal, can you then begin the appropriation process. When you begin to drastically alter it, you can use any material, art medium or process you’d like. Think outside the box!

Other Important Guidelines:

1. No Central Composition!

2. Capture the details and characteristics of the object you are studying.

3. Larger than life! – At least 3 feet WIDE OR TALL

4. Use charcoal!

5. Recontextualize and drastically alter the drawing only AFTER you have completed a detailed charcoal drawing on your background.










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