The Joy Of… Inventive Adaptations

2015 Artwork joy of inventive adaptations article sketch

Although this is an article about art and writing, I’m going to have to start by talking about music for a while. There’s a good reason for this and I’m not just rambling about music for the sake of it.

A few weeks ago, I was kind of bored and ended up watching random music videos on Youtube. Anyway, I was curious to see if anyone had made a cover version of “Cancion Del Mariachi” by Los Lobos (it’s the opening song from the cinematic masterpiece that is Roboert Rodriguez’s “Desperado“, which is probably my fifth favourite movie of all time.)

As well as finding a couple of good acoustic cover versions of “Cancion Del Mariachi” and a couple of really awesome heavy metal covers of the song (like this one by Fernando S. Gallegos), I also stumbled across a band called “Metalachi“.

They were a mariachi band who played covers of classic heavy metal songs. They dress like heavy metal musicians, but they play mariachi-style music. As such, it was really interesting to hear some of my favourite old metal songs in a totally different musical style. Some of their covers are better than others, but it was still really interesting to hear totally different versions of very familiar songs.

And this got me thinking about the whole subject of inventive adaptations. This is where someone re-makes something by someone else, but changes at least a few significant things – so that the final result is both new and familiar at the same time. I absolutely love these kinds of adaptations.

This sort of thing is a lot more common in music for the simple reason that there’s much more of a tradition of musicians playing cover versions of other songs (there are a whole bunch of reasons for this, mainly stemming from the fact that – whilst music itself has been around since ancient history – recorded music has only been around for less than two centuries). But, I started to wonder whether it was possible to do this kind of thing in art and writing… and it is, sort of.

Because art and writing are usually recorded onto fixed mediums and created by only one person – there has historically been much more of a focus on copyright, “moral rights” and “ownership”.

Although I don’t want to get into this subject too much, modern copyright laws have done a lot to stifle inventive cover versions of famous things. No, I don’t think that copyright should be abolished entirely – but I do think that it needs serious reform and liberalisation.

What all of this means is that – depending on where you live – you’ll probably have to restrict your artistic and literary “cover versions” to covers of old out-of-copyright stuff, parodies of famous things, stylistic pastiches and/or non-commercial fan works (eg: fan fiction, fan art etc..).

But, even with these onerous restrictions – you can still have a lot of fun making inventive “cover” versions of famous things. Plus, if you’re an artist, it can be a great way to learn about art history too.

After all, there are thousands of really cool old paintings that are out of copyright (but, be sure to do your research. For example, some of Matisse’s paintings aren’t copyrighted in the US, but all of them are still copyrighted in the EU.) Most of these old paintings can be viewed for free on the internet and they can be copied, changed and/or adapted to your heart’s content.

To give you an example of this, here’s a really cool 18th century etching called “The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters” ( “El sueño de la razon produce monstruos“) by Francisco Goya:

"El sueño de la razon produce monstruos" By Francisco Goya [Image from Wikipedia]

“El sueño de la razon produce monstruos” By Francisco Goya [Image from Wikipedia]

I liked this etching so much, that I wanted to make my own copy of it. But, I was also curious to see what it would look like in colour (and in my art style)- so, I also ended up adding a more modern colour scheme to my copy of it. And, surprisingly, it really made a huge difference…..

"Sleep Of Reason (After Goya)" By C. A. Brown

“Sleep Of Reason (After Goya)” By C. A. Brown

Of course, if you’re a writer, then you can also have a lot of fun with this, since there are plenty of famous literary characters that are no longer copyrighted – notable examples include Robin Hood, Alice (from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland”), Cthulhu (but only if you live in the EU) and Sherlock Holmes (although, if you live in the US or are publishing there, then you can only use older versions of Holmes).

Plus, in most cases, you can also just write fan fiction about more modern stuff (as long as you don’t publish it commerically and avoid the works of a few authors who loathe and despise fan fiction [Anne Rice and G.R.R. Martin spring to mind for starters…])

Yes, these restrictions suck (and they’re kind of stupid) – but, even so, it’s certainly worth making at least one inventive adaptation of something that you like, because.. well.. it’s just really good fun.

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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