September 02, 2008

Bookslut? Galley Cat? Anybody?

I enjoyed meeting author and feminist critic Susan Faludi at luncheon hosted by her publisher some months back. Later, I enjoyed reading her book The Terror Dream when it came to my office in hardback. When I spied the paperback edition at Kramerbooks today, I thought the redesigned cover was quite stunning.

I also thought--assumed, was dead sure--that the cover was using the art work of Kara Walker. Compare: some work from Kara Walker's recent exhibition, My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love:

As readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of Walker's work. Because she is a political artist in her own right, I was surprised to see her willing to affiliate with Faludi, who has her own set of controversies. Well, it turns out this artwork is not credited to Kara Walker; it is apparently part of the "original" book design.

Which leaves me feeling a touch of discomfort. I recognize that whereas Southern iconography reigns in Walker's work, this cover substitutes Western images. Instead of dancing slaves, we have a dancing "injun." Maybe that's enough difference on a legal level. But I have the uncomfortable suspicion that Walker has exhibited an image very similar to that silhouette of the woman straddling the cowboy. Walker's version might be in a plantation skirt, and he might have a foreman's whip instead of a Stetson. Still, the spirit is the same: the oppressed loving her oppressor.

Does anyone else think this is an odd echo? Has Walker developed a "style" that, like Andy Warhol, can be imitated without consequence?


mgushuedc said...

Interesting question. I'm also a big admirer of Kara Walker, and don't know if her style can be reproduced w/o consequences. The question is to what extent is someone's style. even unique style, intellectual property? You could a cover with a faux-Impressionist painting, but that not infringement, I think. If it was claimed that the book cover was by Kara Walker, then you're looking at forgery. So somewhere between the two.

That said, just from the picture of the cover is pretty de-fanged Walker. Her stuff is genuinely disturbing.

And I suppose in the legal world whether something is an infringement of intellectual property depends on how much money the person being infringed upon has. Remember: Fear the Mouse isn't said about Disneycorp for nothing.

I bet Maureen Thorson could say something actually intelligent on this.

mgushuedc said...

Ugh. Sorry for the crappy grammar/typing. Tired.

Red said...

Silhouette pictures have been around many centuries. Their popularity comes and goes like a lot of other common styles. I'm not so sure that it as an art form can be attributed to any certain artist as being their style, perhaps their as preferred medium.
Here in the south part of Texas there are many people who use silhouettes, cut outs from plywood painted black, to decorate their yards, like cowboys and cowgirls, dogs, cats up a tree, etc. Recently when I was up in your neck of the woods I noticed silhouettes of bears here and there as well.
No offense to Ms. Walker, her art is very striking, nor to you, but in my opinion pretty much anyone can make and use the silhouette art form for many shapes including those to portray selected scenes to evoke an emotion or feeling.
As far as the legal use of the silhouette form, I'm petty sure it is not under copy write protection. However if someone was to take and copy her actual works, her actual “scenes” that is a different story.

Christine said...

I love Walker too! It's great to meet another fan... I recently read a biography about her which described how SHE got her images -- her work is derivative in many ways, but the way she combines and twists the images is her own. I'm on the fence about the cover... The book is "Seeing the Unspeakable".

Lisa Allender said...

Great entry, Sandra. I dunno. It looks awfully "derivative". Hmmmm....I suppose mgushuedc is right. This will be a how-much-are-you-worth-in-dollars-thing. Though it should not be.
All artists should be respected. Again, it looks awfully derivative.