Remember when George Harrison was sued for copyright infringement? Some argued that Harrison's song "My Sweet Lord" was a direct lift of the melody from "He's So Fine," a hit in the early 1960s. From a strictly musical and artistic standpoint, one might just as easily argue that Harrison happened to use one of a limited number of ideas in existence in rock music.
If a visual artist uses images from another artist's work, is the work dishonest or of lesser artistic value? When a jazz improviser quotes a well-known tune during a solo, is the lift a form of plagiarism?
An exhibit that opened Saturday invites viewers to ponder these and other questions of dishonesty through the works of 22 visual artists. Duke University's Center for Advanced Hindsight is presenting "Creative Dishonesty: Cheat Codes." It is a collaboration between Dan Ariely, a Duke University professor of psychology and behavioral economics, the artists and Catherine Howard, the exhibit curator.
The academic research of Ariely, author of "Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions" and other books, examines why people behave dishonestly. In "Creative Dishonesty," he asked artists "to reflect on human nature as it pertains to dishonesty."
He wanted to get a different view of his academic work through the perspective of visual artists, who see the world in a different way, Ariely said. "Visual art has a way of capturing an idea in an interesting way that I thought would be useful," and that might provide a basis for future experiments, he said.
Howard, who also is a visual artist, and Ariely were connected through a friend who worked in Ariely's lab. In September, they brainstormed ideas for an exhibit, Howard said. They held a forum in which artists learned about Ariely's work in behavioral economics.
For the exhibit, the artists were given complete freedom to ponder the questions of honesty and art. Some took the premise quite literally, and others stretched out more, she said.
"Working with Dan Ariely was such a unique opportunity," Howard said. "He gave me the complete freedom to pick what I wanted to pick." Curating an exhibit normally comes with certain criteria, "but this was just kind of a free-for-all," Howard said.
Howard showed several examples during a preview session. Jordi Williams' "Good Clean Pure Fresh New" is an installation containing a mandala, an iPod and stool. Her work reflects on the idea of confession and starting over with a clean slate, Howard said.
Albert Gilewicz's "The Ethos of Greenwashing," a sculpture, is his comment on how companies dupe consumers into thinking they are contributing to a common good, when only a small portion of the cost of the goods goes toward charity. The work "is intended to act as the rinse cycle and cleanse the purchaser of the creative dishonesty of Ethos and the bottled water industry," Gilewicz wrote in an artist's statement.
Other works examine the whole conundrum of appropriation of other artists' images, or whether certain techniques amount to cheating. Vincent Pidone has reprinted and restyled a work by artist Jasper Johns. Bruce Mitchell, a local artist, will display three paintings, all having an automotive image and all done in different media. One is painted from observation, one painted using a photographic process and another created using Photoshop, Howard said.
Mitchell will ask viewers to fill out a survey giving their opinion on which painting is the most professional, and which is the most artistic.
That intersection of visual art and social science is part of what Ariely is driving at, and what he hopes audiences will take from this exhibit.
"I would like people to think about human nature, both from the perspective of what the social sciences can tell us about it and from the perspective of what art can tell us," and perhaps see the connections between the two disciplines, he said.