Can an aesthetic be private?
I’d like to point everyone over to a website called Book By Its Cover and a post by Chad Kouri of Eric Ellis’s sketchbook. The post has garnered a good deal of discussion about the work in this sketchbook and the work of artist Geoff McFetridge. McFetridge has even weighed in with his own thoughts on the matter.
What bothers me about discussion like these are the belief that someone can seemingly own or possess ownership of a visual style or aesthetic. Perhaps I shouldn’t say much more, but I will. The point of contention in the post and discussion is whether the sketchbook artist, Eric Ellis, is copying the “style” or work of Geoff McFetridge. As McFetridge himself points out in his comment, a common defense in situations like these is that we all work on a sliding scale copying, which McFetridge says belies the truth of the situation. The truth of the situation is that one cannot copyright, patent, lay claim or otherwise possess any kind of style, as it is not something that is tangible nor something which origin can be objectively traced. I don’t think this is a matter of intellectual property rights either. I know there are a lot of art historians out there who might disagree with that statement that a visual style’s origin cannot be traced back objectively, and for those I will say again, “objectively”.
What is to say that McFetridge’s “style” or aesthetic of “drawing hands and bending things to make characters,” wasn’t already created by some high school kid or art student in the 70’s, but instead of getting on top of their shit and becoming a world-famous bad-ass like McFetridge did, that young kid’s drawings are still in his math notebooks? Does recognition and notoriety also encompass an entitlement?
Also, while this “style” that is in question may have a lot of thinking and precision behind it, it’s appeal is in it’s universality. The reason it is visually appealing is because people can relate to it.
The bottom line is that I think this conversation and many like these that deal with ownership of aesthetics are the epitome of egocentrism and indicative of a specific point-of-view and artistic perspective that I believe goes without critical self-analysis. But that’s just my two cents. I went to school for journalism not art.