Some Things Borrowed

For a 2007 New Yorker piece exploring how Picasso borrowed from Rembrandt, did Simon Schama borrow too much from an earlier, longer, essay (one which Schama does credit/mention in his piece)?

Peter Hellman argues that case at the Forward.

Why now (news hook)? “In Paris, art gazers have been lining up in droves for Picasso and the Masters, this season’s blockbuster show at the Grand Palais” among other current exhibits showing how Picasso cribbed from others, Hellman writes. Why/how this? Janie Cohen, the author of the earlier, longer Picasso essay, Hellman writes, “happens to be my wife’s first cousin.”

Writes Hellman:

[Cohen’s] essay, never published in the United States and immune even to Google searching, can be called, fairly, obscure. But close and, it should be noted, explicit attention had been paid to it by Schama, who extensively relied on it. Twice in his own essay, Schama briefly credits Cohen, but a comparison of the two texts still raises certain questions: Did Schama reveal the true extent to which his own article relied on the work of a person not nearly so famous as himself? And, if Cohen’s article had been posted on the Web, where curious readers of Schama’s article would have noticed the similarities, would Schama have had second thoughts about the extent of his borrowing? Or maybe it is a fault of the looseness of the journalistic genre: Had Schama been writing as a scholar instead of as a journalist, would he have properly footnoted Cohen’s work?

All food for general thought: Are journalists too loose with “borrowing?” How much borrowing is too much?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.