SchoolArts Room

Adaptation vs. Appropriation in the Art Room

By Nancy Walkup, posted on May 8, 2018

Whenever I come across art teachers’ interesting or unique lessons or concepts online or at conferences, I will encourage them to share their ideas for articles for SchoolArts Magazine. Published articles are some of the best advocacy tools you can have. You can share them online, post printed copies in your classroom, use them for handouts for conferences and other presentations, and make your students, parents, and administrators proud.


Here I am with a collaborative installation at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. Adapted by museum educator Stephanie Riggs partially from the form of Native American dream catchers in an outreach program, each piece is constructed on hula hoops with individual student contributions.


One of the main responses I get to my invitations is that the lesson was someone else’s idea. My response to that is that you should credit in the article where you got the idea but then focus on how you adapted it and how your students interpreted it. I have yet to find an art teacher


The concepts of adaptation and giving credit also require from your students an understanding of the differences between adaptation and appropriation. The use of appropriation, copying someone or some thing, is not usually considered to be an ethical practice. This view is complicated by the use of appropriation by contemporary artists. Jeff Koons comes to mind, especially in his recent Louis Vuitton Masters Collection handbags that feature famous works of art by Monet, Turner, Manet, and Gauguin. (Not sure about the copyright issues on these.)


These issues are especially important for high school students to understand, as they are likely to get rejected from competitions or exhibitions if it is discovered they copied someone else’s artwork or photography. The National Art Education Association has published a position statement that is helpful to share with their students:


Position Statement on the Ethical Use of Copyrighted Imagery and Primary Sources:
It is the position of the NAEA that educators and students should act ethically by source) when using existing imagery to research and/or create original art. Educators and students should appropriately credit original sources in all types of work.Educators and students should see, know, and experience art and art history through original source material and/or high quality reproductions in order to examine, understand, and create original research or art(you could drop this part if need be for reasons of space).When developing art, even when using a variety of sources, educators and students should understand the appropriate use of copyrighted and public domain imagery, including digital imagery. Educators and students should be encouraged to go beyond published art to develop concepts and ideas from direct observation, experiences, and imagination.


Please also read high school art teacher James Rees’ article in this issue for his point of view on this subject, Inspiration, Not Appropriation. If you would like to share your thoughts on these concepts, please let us know what you think about this sometimes challenging issue.


More photos from the exhibition at the Museum of International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico: