Term Paper: Design Culture

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¶ … Culture

Lyons, Kevin. "Cease and Desist, Issues of Cultural Reappropriation in Urban Street Design." Design Culture. Ed. Stephen Heller, Marie Finamore. New York: Allworth Press, 1997, p. 13-15. This article largely consists of the authors' interview material with four of the most prominent and successful urban designers: Eric "Haze," James Jebbia, Ssur Russ, and Joseph Melendez. Although brief, the article allows a glimpse into the mindsets surrounding reappropriation of imagery, or "biting," as it is called on the street. Biting is more commonly known in the musical world, in which small sound bites known as samples are reappropriated and synthesized into an entirely new creative project. If there is indeed nothing new under the sun then design reappropriation is simply an extension of all other creative processes. Reappropriation in the realm of the visual arts may entail biting a portion of a corporate logo or product design as a springboard for something new. Lyons shows, through his interview material and commentary around it, that reappropriation is one way oppressed social groups and minorities create subcultures and engender pride within their communities. Occasionally the justification behind reappropriation of corporate symbols is a simple tit for tat: as James Jebbia notes, corporations regularly reappropriate urban designs and ideas at huge profit margins. Reappropriation of corporate design thus serves also as a metaphor for the triumph of the underdog. Urban street culture is inescapably hostile and competitive and urban design is one of the key ways artists establish personal and collective identities in the midst of otherwise painful economic realities. In his interviews, Lyons also touches upon intellectual property rights and potential sources of misappropriation: especially in cases where an ethnic or racial minority might feel offended by the method by which its symbols were "bitten off." This article, while altogether too brief for any in-depth analysis, nevertheless offers a good springboard for discussion.

Coombo, Rosemary J. "Is there Legal Protection for Cultural Imagery?" Design Culture. Ed. Stephen Heller, Marie Finamore. New York: Allworth Press, 1997, p. 16-18. In this article, the author criticizes the limitations of copyright law for not protecting cultural emblems or expressions. Intellectual property law arises from a Euro-centric worldview, one that champions individualism and therefore one that protects individual creative expressions more than collective ones. As a result, minority groups, which do not hold individualism in such high esteem as a cultural value, are at risk for the misappropriation of their ideas, symbols, and creative art forms. Furthermore, many creative forms are not legally defined as "art" in a Western European context, such as food preparation or ritual tattoos. While Coombo's argument is enlightening and offers insight into the limitations of intellectual property and copyright laws, her article is devoid of real substance. Lacking in solid examples save for the one about Crazy Horse, the article cannot adequately illustrate why appropriation of cultural symbols is wrong, when such appropriation might be tolerated, and how the legal system can adapt to include collective cultural expressions… [END OF PREVIEW]

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