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Why a South Korean couple should be paid for defacing JonOne's art?

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

JonOne's reaction to the innocent intervention is quite par for the course!

JonOne, an american street artist, is reported to be excited about the planetary buzz caused by the South Korean couple's defacement of his art. The artist was reported to be no longer upset after the unwitting tragedy, and instead hoped to meet the couple over tea.

Why would an artist not be agitated at his art getting defaced? JonOne re-discovered the inter-connectedness of humanity in the act of such innocent intervention. However, the answer lies in the larger themes playing out in the art world.

The idea of iconoclastic art

In the practice of contemporary art, the idea that destruction itself is a form of art has come into its own. You may go through this article in detail, to gain from a historical and chronological narration of how 'iconoclastic' art has acquired an identity of its own in the art world.

Artists have started questioning the boundaries between the 'classical' notion of art - which dwelled on excellence in labour, skill and effect. In the classical era, everyday life was a drudgery to be avoided through the expression of art.

However, perhaps starting from Duchamp's "Fountain" - a urinal installed in a museum to indicate an attempt to 'destroy' the boundaries between romanticized art of the classical era and lived reality of modernity, several artists have time and again expressed the need to destroy the old to prepare the ground for new.

When the Chapman brothers produced "Insult to Injury" - an effort to lampoon the idea of art as humanity, iconoclastic sacrilege reached into another dimension. The Chapman brothers defaced Goya's "Disaster of Wars" - an artistic unravel of the horrors of wars told through the graphic tales of its mutilated victims.

The iconoclastic tradition was furthered carried on over by the anonymous Splasher - a serial vandal who destroyed street graffiti by splashing paint on them.

The iconoclast artists hold onto the view that art should not be beholden to any one single particular identifiable lone genius.

Though the Talibanis were no artists, their iconoclastic destruction of the bamiyan buddha statues - only ended up becoming a metaphorical expression of Gautama's The Great Departure. The empty mould left after the bombings became another metaphor of Gautam's empty throne that he'd left to become the Buddha.

So, does the law recognize the South Korean couple as authors?

If you were to believe the iconoclastic sections' view point, then the South Korean's couple's innocent intervention has actually produced 'new art'. This new art can be considered as a derivative form of art created with JonOne's art as an underlying work. Therefore, JonOne shouldn't have the right to demand charges for publication of the 'new art', although JonOne may demand to be paid license fees for use of his underlying work in the 'new art'.

However, should the South Korean couple be considered as 'authors' of the new art when the size of their contribution is quite insignificant to the underlying work? This is a different question altogether that merits a distinct but adjunct legal analysis of the doctrine of 'transformative use'.

Important Disclaimer: The information provided herein this article is our interpretation and understanding of the law. The legal analysis presented hereinabove is not given for application to any specific set of facts or circumstances peculiar to you or your organization. You may rely on the write-up for your peculiar facts or circumstances at your sole risk only. We will not be liable, answerable or responsible to you under any client-attorney relationship.

1 Comment

Ashish Sharma
Ashish Sharma
Apr 18, 2021

Really nice and informative article!

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