4 Zines, Appropriation, and the Art Library as Studio Space

Lindsey Reynolds

Intended Audience: Upper-division undergraduate course for studio art students focusing on photography

Session Lengths:

  • 1 hour long introductory library instruction session (with optional 30 minute demo)
  • 1 hour long fair-use instruction session
  • 3 three-hour long open library/studio sessions
  • 1 three-hour final critique

Code Section: Making Art


This studio art course was designed to introduce students to historical references and contemporary trends in photography publications. Fair use instruction was embedded informally throughout the course via readings and instructor feedback during open studio sessions, combined with two formal instruction sessions. The formal instruction sessions used the CAA Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts and several fair use legal case studies involving practicing artists. The library was used for instruction sessions and as an open studio by the students. A semester-long assignment to create a zine in an edition of 10 served as their final project. Most of the students used appropriated images/text scanned from books in the library; some used photographs they had taken of works in the museum’s collection. The librarian participated in their final critique, which was held in the museum library. At the end of the course, a copy of each student’s zine was accessioned into the library’s artists’ book collection.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will know how to contact museum libraries and make appointments to visit them
  • Students will be able to define appropriation and identify some prominent artists who use it in their work
  • Students will be able to defend their own use of appropriation in their studio practice


  • Copyright Infringement v. Fair Use” PowerPoint Presentation (see appendix 3)
  • 1-page zine template
  • Zine collection submission form

Lesson Plan

Day 1

Introductions & Library Tour (20 minutes)

Students, given directions by their professor, meet at the museum library. It may be the first visit for many. Introduce students to the librarian, tour the physical library space and explain hours and how to make appointments.

Zine introduction (20 minutes)

Introduce semester-long zine project to students—explain what a zine is, why it is something a library would want to collect, and show examples from the library’s collection. Point out differences in size, shape, binding, and paper. Explain submission process and collection development policy of library’s zine collection if one exists. Give students a copy of this policy and any relevant submission/donation forms to take home with them.

Be sure to discuss elements of publications like ISBN numbers, copyright statements, and bibliographies. Show examples of books that don’t always follow these formats such as artists’ books and exhibition catalogs. Explain the importance of these elements and discuss autonomy of zine authors to include or not include them and why they as artists may or may not want to include them in their final projects.

Zine review (20 minutes)

Provide time for students to flip through zines individually and in groups. Ask students which ones they like or don’t like and why. Answer questions informally as they come up to encourage participation.

Optional Demo (30 minutes)

Show students a one page zine template, demonstrate how to cut and fold it. Provide materials for students to try cutting and folding themselves.

Day 2: Copyright Infringement v. Fair Use PowerPoint Presentation

Introduction: Slides 1-3 (15 minutes)

Ask: Who uses appropriation in their work? Who knows what appropriation means?

Show 2 slides with definitions. Discuss nuance of this term, especially in relation to art making but also to social media, internet culture: memes, etc.

Ask again: Who uses appropriation in their work? See if the students’ answers change.

Note that this presentation will be made available on students’ e-learning class site.

 CAA Code: Slide 4 (10 minutes)

Introduce the  Code to students. Read “Three: Making Art” aloud to them or have a student volunteer to read it aloud (unless this reading has been assigned as a previous homework assignment) and discuss the limitations—what is their significance to the students? Why do they differ in opinion?

Court Cases: Slides 5–8 (30 minutes)

Discuss various art world court cases using slide examples. Each slide shows an image of the appropriated work in question with the source material. The presenter notes field is populated with background on each case to be used to guide discussion. It is important to discuss the cases in chronological order to be clear that some cases have been superseded—this helps to illustrate how opinions about fair use have changed over time.

Before discussing each case, ask the students if they think the artworks falls under fair use based on the images on the slides. Have them discuss why or why not. Encourage students to use the Code as a framework for their analysis.

Wrap up (5 minutes)

Leave time to answer any questions that the students have.

Optional Section

If time permits for a second session, asking students to role play defending/prosecuting a theoretical case involving their own appropriation works could be an effective active learning tool. Students could work in teams or pairs, taking turns defending their own works against a peer posing as a prosecutor who would be arguing that the source of the appropriated imagery was wronged by the student defender’s use of it. They would then switch roles. Each pair or team would have the added benefit of conducting this play in front of a live audience (the rest of the class and the librarian). The librarian can be the judge. While students are asked to engage in this type of questioning and defense in the final critique, practicing the activity in a less formal setting will allow students to hone their approach.

Days 3-5

Open Studio (3 hours)

Students meet in the library for the entirety of the class period, working independently on their zines (hopefully utilizing library materials). Librarian and professor will be available to answer questions and to meet with students individually to discuss the direction of their project.

Day 6

Final Critique (3 hours)

Professor leads final critique with librarian’s participation. Students are asked to identify appropriation in their own and each other’s work and to defend their use of it where applicable. Note that appropriation was not a mandatory part of the assignment and not all students used this strategy in their final projects; given a chance to repeat this course I would encourage the professor to make appropriation mandatory in order to engage all of the students in thinking about fair use in their own studio practice and to provide continuity in the final critique. At the end of critique, students submit one copy of each of their zines to the library’s zine collection, filling out any necessary paperwork at this time.


This course came out of a small conversation group that developed between myself (museum librarian), Wassan Al-Khudhairi, the contemporary art curator at my institution, and Jared Ragland, a photographer and instructor at the local university. We met to discuss art happenings in Birmingham, goings-on at each of our institutions, and ways to collaborate.

Jared had developed a course which would focus on investigating methods of image sequencing, editing, and presentation of photographic and lens-based media across print, exhibition, and online outlets. He knew that I had a burgeoning zine collection and interest in artists’ books, so he asked if he could bring the students to the museum library and if I would be interested in leading instruction sessions with a focus on fair use and artists’ publications. As we began planning the course it became apparent that more than one library session would be helpful, and my offer to use the library as a studio space for the final zine project was readily accepted. As we developed the final project I offered to accession the zines into the library’s collection as an exciting perk for active participation by the students. Although I am part of the museum’s curatorial team and an affiliate faculty within the university’s art school, this was the first studio art course taught in collaboration between the art museum and the university.

Hosting the class in the museum library felt like a smart move. It increased students’ awareness of the resource, and having studio time there helped to break down access barriers and perceived formality that museum libraries often carry. Holding the final critique in the library with the librarian’s participation further increased my credibility with the students. My participation in the final critique was not limited to discussing appropriation and fair use only, although I tried to be sure to participate in any fair use conversation that arose, especially if students were interpreting it incorrectly or if they seemed to be self-censoring. I also used my knowledge about contemporary art to identify artists working in a similar vein and to discuss exhibitions at museums I had seen throughout my tenure in museum libraries. The students seemed to be especially interested in hearing about how curators conduct research, and the exhibition design process.

One of the best outcomes of accessioning the zines from the class into the library’s collection was the sense of ownership over the collection and the library space it afforded the students. I believe having a title of theirs in the collection did this in a way that no amount of outreach could.

The professor assigned readings throughout the course, and looking back I would have inserted some selections from White Chapel’s Documents of Contemporary Art Series, specifically from the volume titled “Appropriation” for students to read before the fair use instruction session in order to increase their conceptual understanding of appropriation as a strategy for contemporary art making.

I would also suggest adding instruction time to go over citation formats with the students. I assumed that they were familiar with this but not all of them were, as was evident in their final projects.

Since the course was taught over the summer, students met in the library once per week over the course of two months. This lesson could also be implemented as a succinct unit within a longer course with sessions run consecutively.


Fair Use in the Visual Arts: Lesson Plans for Librarians Copyright © 2018 by Lindsey Reynolds. All Rights Reserved.

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