The Prince of Difference and Repetition


‘The motive behind his appropriation was to exemplify the thin line between sacred and taboo; to present a line between public and private, innocence and experience, availability and that which is untouchable’

Richard Prince emerged in the late 1970’s, becoming known for appropriating art by photographing other photographs. He would usually take them from magazine adverts, enlarge them and then exhibit them as his own[i]. In 2005 he became the first photographer to sell work for more than a million dollars, when he sold a photo named ‘Untitled’ (Cowboy), one of a limited series of images which all shared the same name[ii]. This photograph sold for $1.2 million and was a piece from his collection of appropriated art[iii]. This was his first major work and became that which would define his career. It was widely questioned how is technique of simply re-photographing existing work could be considered art, but according to Prince, the appropriation of another artists work can ‘additionalize’ the reality of the original piece. It is said that his work is never really about the actual thing on display but about how society obsessively consumes myth and fakery and continuously re-produces it[iv]. Similarly to  philosopher Gilles Deleuze, it is as if through his work, Prince wants to show that the only thing which can return is difference, and therefore things should be valued based on the intensity which they produce within the subject. While many may argue that in the act of appropriating existing photographs Prince is creating original art work, many will also disagree with this. In 2008 Prince was taken to court by French photographer Patrick Cariou, for re-working thirty five of Cariou’s images which then appeared in Prince’s own exhibit at the Gagosian gallery. Cariou claimed that the images were lifted straight from his 2000 publication named, ‘Yes, Rasta’, for which he had spent six years documenting. Prince lost the court battle and was ordered to destroy works worth over ten million dollars[v].



Deleuze’s Ideas Exemplified Through the Richard Prince Case Study

Difference through repetition:

Deleuze’s idea on difference through repetition explored through an examination of the artwork of Richard Prince and his ‘Untitled’ (Cowboy) series

            Deleuze believed that ‘It is art that invents the lies that elevate the false to this higher affirmative power, that turns the will to deceive into something that is affirmed in the power of the false’[vi]. He was a believer, like Prince, that art could succeed in re-creating that which already existed; that a piece of art work has the power to change from a copy and elevate into an original and unique piece of work. Similarly to Deleuze’s concept of the simulacrum, Prince believed his work contributed something original, with its own principles, and like the simulacrum, could affirm the power of the false. It is on these grounds that Prince would argue that his work was far from a copy. Deleuze notes that Platonism discusses a model of repetition based on representation, where the copy repeats the identity of the ideal model, as the first in a hierarchical series which presupposes a repetition of the same[vii]. He takes this idea and deliberates whether the copies that follow in the series are added secondarily to the original model or whether it is possible that they are in fact ‘the internal genetic elements of repetition itself, its internal and constituent parts’[viii]. By which he is suggesting that instead of a repetition of the same, we should look at repetition as that which produces difference between the model and the copy. This concept can be seen in Prince’s artwork, where he re-produces the original through difference, re-presenting it with a completely different meaning and therefore reproducing it with unique principles. Prince himself stated ‘I find the best way for me to make it real is to make it again’[ix], which again reaffirms this idea that by re-presenting these images in a way that makes them real and have meaning for him, is what makes them original. Deleuze would call this process of repetition ‘pure becoming’ and he would explain that it is through this becoming that change happens. Through this type of repetition, that which is repeated has no former identity or origin of the same, but instead, a virtual object or event which is always displaced in relation to itself and has no fixed identity. With this repetition of difference, the object is a difference that differentiates itself in being repeated[x].

Prince argues with a similar line of thought in order to explain the principles behind his work. The subject of his 2005 record breaking photograph is the classic Marlboro man from the 1970’s cigarette advertisement campaign, originally photographed by Sam Abell. Three decades after the original was taken by Abell, Prince simply re-photographed the advertisement without the text and put his name on it. In 2008 he did the same again with another photograph from the same cowboy series, this time selling it for $3.4 million.

Below to the left is the original photograph taken by Sam Abell for the Marlboro man cigarette campaign[xi] and to the right is the appropriated photograph taken by Richard Prince in 1989 which sold for $1.2 million[xii].

The photographs are identical, apart from a slight variation in colour. Prince described using ‘Normalcy as special effect’[xiii] for this series of pictures, meaning he has used normal, simple pictures to convey deeper meanings and ideas. Prince would suggest his cowboy series was about popular culture, that they were a commentary on the way images are used to create a false appearance of reality. He argued the originals didn’t show real cowboys doing cowhand work but in fact were designed to draw a market and sell cigarettes. He believed the originals were models of irony, appearing to sell a healthy, outdoor lifestyle when in fact they were selling a cancerous bad habit. He believed that they were in a very real way, fake[xiv].

Prince wanted to argue he was doing the same; taking something and reproducing it through difference to hold a new meaning with its own set of principles instead of it being a mere copy[1]. He claims that the process of appropriating Abell’s work is the process of creating art. Deleuze’s theory would support this claim as he would argue that,

‘Returning is thus the only identity, but identity as a secondary power; the identity of difference, the identical which belongs to the different. Such an identity, produced by difference is determined as “repetition”’[xv]

Here Deleuze is arguing that the essence is always different, that difference differs from itself each time it is repeated giving things a new identity each time[xvi]. Prince would argue that within his artwork, the meaning and message is the essence and that is what makes his photographs different from prior or existing photographs. Deleuze then goes on to explain that

‘Repetition is constituted only with and through the disguises which affect the terms and relations of the real series, but it is so because it depends upon the virtual object as an immanent instance which operated above all by displacement’[xvii].

By this he means that these differential variations do not come from an outside source but in fact express differential mechanisms which belong to the essence and origin of what is repeated. He argues that disguise and displacement are the essence of repetition, which themselves are original principles[xviii]. Prince would argue that by removing the image from its original context, he is adding new layers of meaning to the work[xix]. It is this act of displacement which Deleuze would say makes Prince’s work different from the original photograph by Abell.

For Prince, repetition of difference allows for an attempt to add to reality. Part of making an artwork for him is to accept that in allowing an audience to receive your work, you are giving them permission to go and displace these ideas elsewhere as they see necessary. The audience will take in an artwork and reproduce it as their own according to their own emotions, personalities and inspirations and it will then be referred to as their own work. From here, Prince argues that the activity of re-photographing does not have the ability to be a copy, as it will never hold the same essence as anything else[xx]. Deleuze’s theory supports this by similarly arguing that nothing ever returns as the same, only difference returns. He would then argue that repetition opposes re-presentation as they have different meanings. Deleuze would say that to repeat means to repeat only ever as difference, but to re-present means to re-produce the identical which, according to both Deleuze and Prince, is impossible, as nothing can ever return with the same essence[xxi]. For Deleuze, repetition is formed only from one object to another in a movement of continuous differentiation[xxii].

Objections to Deleuze’s theory of difference through repetition:                                                                   

A Critical discussion as to whether artwork can escape resemblance based on essence and whether Deleuze’s work can fit with the social and moral norms of society

The strength of Prince’s art lies within its ability to create a new meaning and focus, one that is different and sometimes more unique and interesting than the original. However simply in stating this, we have to acknowledge that it has in fact stemmed from an existing piece of artwork. Many would argue that no matter what differential essence the artwork now entails, it will never escape a resemblance to its original and will therefore always have the relation of being a copy, or in Princes case, an exact copy. Following from this it may also be asked where this leaves the original piece of work. Photographer Mr Krantz, another of the original photographers behind the Marlboro man cigarette advertisements to have a photo appropriated by Prince, expressed upon finding that his work had been appropriated and sold for millions, ‘I didn’t know if I should be proud, or if I looked like an idiot’[xxiii]. Mr Krantz will always recognise Prince’s appropriated version of his photograph as an imitation of his own. This begs the question whether or not a copy, no matter how much it differs in essence, can really ever be a unique thing, with no prior origin. It is in human nature to relate and compare objects of experience as this is how they can relate and remember the things they experience.

In turn, this criticism falls back onto Deleuze’s concept of the simulacrum as well as his concept of difference through repetition. Deleuze argues that the nature of the simulacrum is different from anything else as it has internal differentiation and the effects of resemblance are simply non-productive external effects. Mr Krantz noted on Deleuze’s version of his photo that although it had been blown up to heroic proportions, there was not a pixel, nor grain of difference[xxiv]. Mr Krantz simply views the external aspect of the artwork and not the internal principles which are where Prince would argue the differences lie. It could be argued that these external effects are noticed before any internal principles are acknowledged and are therefore for many people, that which takes precedence over any internal meaning. This ultimately weakens the theories of both Prince and Deleuze, as it suggests that it is in human nature to ignore the underlying essence that may differ between artworks or objects and take things for face value.

On the other hand however, the idea behind both Deleuze’s theory and Prince’s artwork, that only difference returns, holds a great deal of validity. It is true that nothing can ever be exactly or identically repeated. Prince’s photographs were taken by him, with his own intentions for them in mind and could therefore be argued are unique. He re-photographed them and completely re-worked what they stood for. The essence behind Prince’s work is completely original. It is widely argued that it is the idea and motivation behind a piece of artwork that gives its individuality. Although many will argue that resemblance will persist and take precedence over internal essence, it could be said that every idea and thing in life is causally linked to a prior idea, each object we experience provokes an inspiration for what we do next. Therefore so long as what we do next is built on by new and individual ideas, it should not matter to what extent it externally resembles a prior piece of work; what is important is what the piece portrays.

Deleuze’s ideas can make sense in theory however when implemented into the real world may run the risk of crossing lines in terms of social and moral norms or rules. At what point does a copy or simulacrum become so similar to an existing thing that it becomes theft? It is arguable that if Deleuze’s ideas were to be executed into society, a copy which so closely resembles an existing thing would be considered as stolen. This is problem is made clear in the case of Prince. Although the ideas behind his work are innovative, the aesthetic qualities that define his work are identical to existing artworks. Prince himself admits that his camera simply acts as an electronic pair of scissors which make ‘the magazine picture a photograph’ and further, he accepts that ‘the photograph is . . . close to the real thing’[xxv]. This especially becomes problematic for society when his work is selling for millions of dollars as many would argue this is the equivalent of stealing those millions of dollars, as the money should rightly belong to the photographer or artist who originally created the picture. This has in fact been in an issue for Prince, who has been made to make small payments in and out of court to various artists in relation to copyright, as well as the 2008 court case previously mentioned in which he was forced to destroy over ten million dollars worth of art. On the other hand however, it could be asked why it is that Prince’s work is selling for more than those original versions of the work. In one case[2], Prince sold a re-photograph of a ten year old Brooke Shields for $150,000, whilst the original photographer Gary Gross was failing to sell his originals for more than $75 on Ebay. It may suggest that the ideas and motives behind the artwork have more significance than what was comprehended. If a work can be reproduced in such a way that provokes a more intensive response within its subject, then maybe it truly is a unique piece of work.

Difference produced through variation in intensity:                                                                                           

Deleuze’s ideas on difference through variations in intensity explored through an examination of the ideas behind Prince’s artwork and his ‘Spiritual America’ project

                Deleuze would argue that the way in which we understand difference through repetition is by taking an individualistic view of life, one in which we must allow our bodies and thoughts to respond to things in terms of intensities. He believes this will give us the focus to support difference in itself[xxvi]. He describes intensities as capable of generating actual events, however, events that can never actually resemble the intensity itself. We encounter intensities through sensibility, they encompass all of our sensibility, memory and thought and will affect how we remember events and also how we try to create new events. Deleuze notes that intensities cannot be subdivided without a corresponding change in their nature and their distance from one another makes each of them absolute difference in itself[xxvii]. James Williams explains that for Deleuze, ‘Intensities have to be thought of as indivisible with respect to measure, but divisible, with respect to the configurations they take on with respect to other intensities’[xxviii]. By this he means that intensity cannot be measured in quantity and so cannot be divided in terms of quantity but must be seen in terms of one object. They can however be measured with respect to one another, in terms of for example, one piece of artwork having a stronger sense of intensity than another.

Within chapter 5 of Difference and Repetition, named the ‘Asymmetrical Synthesis of the Sensible’ Deleuze accurately identifies what he defines as intensity. He states.

‘neither depth nor distance are judged by the apparent magnitude of objects . . . depth and distances . . . are fundamentally linked to the intensity of the sensation: it is the power of diminution of  the intensity experienced that provides a perception of depth. The perceived quality presupposes intensity . . . within the limits of which a permanent object is constituted . . . Intensity is simultaneously the imperceptible and that which can only be sensed’[xxix]

Deleuze first points out that it is through the intensity of sensation that we can judge the depth or distance of an object or thing. Through the level of intensity we feel through sensation, is the way in which we value the object in question, ‘the power of diminution’ or the duration the strength of intensity lasts provides our perception of the object. We perceive intensity in terms of quality, which Deleuze states ‘presupposes intensity’. Intensity is immediately expressed in the idea which incarnates a distinct quality and distinguished extensity. Intensity itself cannot be known to us, it is an undetermined entity that is sensed and then produced in terms of quality.

In a piece of writing on Prince named ‘Prince of Light or Darkness’, Rosetta Brooks acknowledges within Prince’s artwork, a comedic tone which she believes brings an original light to his work. She feels that this, transcends his work beyond any prior model it may have been linked to[xxx]. Deleuze would argue that this transcendence is what gives the object or in Prince’s case, the artwork, a depth and intensity that was not present in the original. Deleuze discusses concepts within Difference and Repetition which he uses to account for and explain reality. He introduces his theory of the ‘virtual’ and the ‘actual’, which are what he believes to be the necessary components that allow pure difference to be actualized. He describes the virtual as the realm of pure becomings and the actual as the object in which we collect and synthesize these becomings[xxxi]. The virtual is the process of becoming for the thing/object and is that which he calls ‘transcendental empiricism’, meaning that the virtual is the transcendental condition of all experience[xxxii]. The process of becoming and its variations are what Deleuze calls intensities and these are what are being synthesized in the actual. Intensities come into relation with one another through the concept of repetition, as it is repetition which allows us to explain the relation between the virtual and the actual[xxxiii]. [3]

Deleuze looks at events which occur in cycles to present his ideas on intensities. He uses an example of seasonal cycles or patterns and explains that each part of the cycle returns each year but it never returns in exactly the same way. The change which happens throughout the cycle must be understood in terms of variation in intensity of the sensation experienced by the human subject. These variations in intensities are that which determine the value of an object or copy. In reference to this, Deleuze argues the significance of forgetting everything and leaving all actual things behind. The actual is that which holds the concepts of memory and habit and is therefore what suppresses the expression of virtual intensities and therefore the emergence of new sensations[xxxiv].This theory would support the principles behind Prince’s artwork as Prince’s work captures Deleuze’s idea of forgetting anything previous and leaving actual things behind, as every time he re-photographs a piece of work, the outcome is similar to the death of the original. This is beautifully exemplified by his Spiritual America project[xxxv].

The outrage around Prince and exact copies may have been sparked by his ‘Untitled’ cowboy series but it reached its peak in 1983 when he released a project named ‘Spiritual America’.  This project centred on a re-photograph Prince had taken of a photograph by Gary Gross which pictures a nude ten year old Brooke Shields. Below is the re-photograph by Prince[4].

The picture shows a young Brooke Shields posing naked in a steamy Grecian setting standing provocatively in a luxurious bath tub with her arms outstretched along the sides. Her body is oiled up like that of a pornographic actress and her face is made up like a young woman. Swirling steam rises up to her knees, while semi abstract Moore-like sculptures decorate the foreground and background. The angle of the camera is tilted upward, pornographically transforming the child into a woman[xxxvi]. The photograph by Gross was deemed disturbing to say the least. Prince entitled his re-photograph ‘By Richard Prince, A photograph of Brooke Shields by Gary Gross’. This project involved only this single photograph hanging in his gallery. According to Prince it was intended as a sideshow or attraction, with the gallery being the frame around the picture. This elaborate production, for Prince, was never about the original photograph but about art. The photo was merely the object which initiated the art and Prince’s name was never associated with the picture itself. The outcome of this appropriation, as previously mentioned, was that Prince’s work sold for $150,000 whilst Gross’s work barely scraped $100 dollars on Ebay. Soon after, the site asked Gross to remove his pictures for being objectionable whilst Prince’s work was deemed acceptable enough to be hung as the focal point in a gallery[xxxvii]. It is often argued that the motive and intent on the part of the photographer is the reason why Prince’s appropriated photo was considered more valuable. The motive behind his appropriation of this particular picture was to exemplify the thin line between sacred and taboo; to present a line between public and private, innocence and experience, availability and that which is untouchable[xxxviii].[5]

Variation of intensity in objects is an important concept for Deleuze’s overall project, but specifically as a guarantor for his theory of difference through repetition. Intensities are virtual yet necessary to actual events and are needed for Deleuze to present his theory of difference. The identity and value of objects in Deleuze’s theory are determined by the variations in intensity between objects. He explains that intensities are found in the virtual and the sensations which are affected by intensities are found in the human subject’s perception of the actual. Depending on the variation in intensity, an experience with an object or thing will become clear (as it is more intense) while other objects and thoughts become more obscure, again reiterating that only intensities return to give life new impulses[xxxix]. This theory would support Prince’s use of appropriated photographs, as he is re-presenting artwork with new impulse. He is giving it a different light and value, which is supported by the fact that his work is in many cases more successful. Intensity is what designates the differential element in disparity, which is the principal internal to Deleuze’s concept of the simulacra. Intensity therefore, is the condition of difference.

[1] Similarly to Deleuze’s concept of copies and the simulacra

[2] This case will be presented in further detail in the next section of the project.

[3] As previously established, the only thing which returns is difference and difference returns through repetition by variation of intensity.

[5] Deleuze would similarly account the variation in intensity to Prince’s success.

[vi] Deleuze, Gilles, Nietzsche and Philosophy, tr. Hugh Tomlinson, (New York, Columbia University Press, 1981) p. 103

[vii] Smith, p. 111

[viii] Deleuze (DR 1994), p. 17

[ix]Brooks, R., Rian, J. and Sante, L., Richard Prince, (London, Phaidon Press Limited, 2003) p. 38 (Further citations will be shown thus: Prince, followed by the page number)

[x] Smith, p. 111

[xi] Figure One

[xii] Figure Two

[xiii] Prince, p.56

[xv] Deleuze (DR 2004), p.51

[xvi] Smith, p. 111-13

[xvii] Deleuze (DR 1994), p.105/300

[xviii] ibid

[xxi] Deleuze (DR 1994), p.67

[xxii] Smith, p.113

[xxiv] ibid

[xxv] Prince, p. 16

[xxvi] Williams (DR), p. 11

[xxvii] Parr, Adrian, The Deleuze Dictionary, (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2005) p. 131

[xxviii] Williams (DR), p. 183

[xxix] Deleuze (DR 2004), p. 289-290

[xxx] Prince, p. 47

[xxxi] Williams (DR), p. 7-11

[xxxiii] Williams (DR), p. 7-11

[xxxiv] Williams (DR), p. 12-3

[xxxv] Prince, p. 54

[xxxvi] Prince, p. 53

[xxxviii] Prince, p. 53

[xxxix] Williams (DR), p. 184

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