It’s easy to think of an artist as some Promethean creating art from nothing but his or her own volition and creative imagination, but that’s far from the case.
Artists create from the cultures before them. They study, borrow, shift and inevitably build the work of the new cultures.
The term “Intellectual Property” is in its own way is an affront to this very idea.
The art of artists is their own only while they themselves are creating it. Once created, unless immediately destroyed or locked away forever, it has then become part of the world.
People can then love it, steal it, care nothing for it or even destroy it.
As much as one may not like it, that is the life of art.
In 1969, a funk and soul band known as The Winstons released a single, “Color Him Father,” which went on to top the charts of that year and won the group a Grammy. The B-side, an instrumental known as “Amen Brother” largely lived in the shadow of the success of “Color Him Father” until the creation of the sampler in the 1980s.
What would follow was musical renaissance when early hip-hop artists began sampling a six-second drum solo in the middle of the song and using it to build intricate back beats. The beat was eventually known as the “Amen” or “Amen Break” and went on to be used by early electronica and techno DJs by reformatting the beat to create the beginnings of drum and bass and hardcore music.
I look at the Amen Break as a perfect example of a work of art that has, rather than being killed by the prevailing artistic culture, been ascended by it. These artists who sampled it were not malicious in intent, but rather saw it as something that would help them make their art.
The American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko once said, “A painting lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world.”