In the visual arts, to appropriate means to adopt, borrow, recycle or sample aspects (or the entire form) of man-made visual culture. The term appropriation refers to the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work (as in 'the artist uses appropriation') or refers to the new work itself (as in 'this is a piece of appropriation art'). Art practices involve the 'appropriation' of ideas, symbols, artefacts, image, sound, objects, forms or styles from other cultures, from art history, from popular culture or other aspects of man made visual or non visual culture. Inherent in the process of appropriation is the fact that the new work recontextualizes whatever it borrows to create the new work. In most cases the original 'thing' remains accessible as the original, without change.
Anthropologists have studied the process of appropriation, or cultural borrowing (which includes art and urbanism), as part of cultural change and contact between different cultures.
In 1938 Joseph Cornell produced what might be considered the first work of film appropriation in his randomly cut and reconstructed film 'Rose Hobart'. This work was to inspire later video artists.
The Fluxus art movement also utilised appropriation: its members blended different artistic disciplines including visual art, music, and literature. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s they staged "action" events, engaged in politics and public speaking, and produced sculptural works featuring unconventional materials. The group even appropriated the postal system in developing mail art. The performances sought to elevate the banal by appropriating it as "art" and dissembling the high culture of serious music.
In the late 1970s Dara Birnbaum was working with appropriation to produce feminist works of art. In 1978-79 she produced one of the first video appropriations. 'Technology, Transformation : Wonder Woman' utilised video clips from the Wonder Woman television series.
The term appropriation art was in common use in the 1980s with artists such as Sherrie Levine, who addressed the act of appropriating itself as a theme in art. Levine often quotes entire works in her own work, for example photographing photographs of Walker Evans. Challenging ideas of originality, drawing attention to relations between power, gender and creativity, consumerism and commodity value, the social sources and uses of art, Levine plays with the theme of "almost same".
Appropriation artists comment on all aspects of culture and society. Joseph Kosuth appropriated images to engage with philosophy and epistemological theory. Other artists working with appropriation during this time with included Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Greg Colson, and Malcolm Morley.
In the 1990s artists continued to produce appropriation art, using it as a medium to address theories and social issues, rather than focussing on the works themselves. Damian Loeb used film and cinema to comment on themes of simulacrum and reality. Other high-profile artists working at this time included Christian Marclay, Deborah Kass and Damien Hirst.
Artists working today[update] increasingly incorporate and quote from both art and non-art elements. For example, Cory Arcangel incorporates aspects of cultural nostalgia through re-working vintage video games and computer software. Other contemporary appropriation artists include the Chapman brothers, Benjamin Edwards, Joy Garnett, Nikki S. Lee, Paul Pfeiffer, Pierre Huyghe.