The Spine

The Artist's Muse

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Here is how Jack Cowart, the executive director of the Lichtenstein Foundation, characterizes the work of his dead client, the Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein: "Roy's work was a wonderment of the graphic formulae and the codification of sentiment that had been worked out by others. ... The [cartoon strip] panels were changed in scale, color, treatment, and in their implications. There is no exact copy."

This is Cowart's rebuttal to the charges mustered by Alex Beam in an article, "Lichtenstein: creator or copycat?", (in today's Boston Globe), that as the artist's critics allege, "If you look at the work, he copied them almost verbatim. Only a few were original." Cowart's mumbo-jumbo means that he pretty much agrees. The rub is that the statute of limitations on copyright violations runs out after three years, and Lichtenstein's borrowings date back as early as the sixties. Tough darts!

From whom did Lichtenstein copy? Real working comic book artists, that's
who. In the meantime, Lichtenstein near-duplications may sell for a couple of million dollars, without credit or cash ever having been given to artists from whom the original images came. My beef with Lichtenstein is actually not that he stole the work of others. It's that even his own true work is so empty that its flatness becomes it.

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