When I first started designing ~15 years ago, I spent hours trying to create banners completely from scratch, drawing all the shapes by hand. I always felt that I didn't want anyone else to ever be able to claim that they helped me with my art, so I had a personal policy (from a very young age) that EVERYTHING I CREATED WOULD BE 100% ORIGINAL.

After spending hours trying to painstakingly craft my own original images, I was told that I was doing it wrong and taking way too long. I was tutored in the fine art of grabbing pictures from the internet and then cropping, rotating, stretching, etc. to fit the design you are trying to create in Photoshop.

Although I felt a little like that was cheating, I discovered that it was a common practice at the time (2003), and in work situations that was often what was expected of you to produce work in a timely manner.

So, you can see how I started believing everything must be created from scratch or you are a thief and not as good as somebody who CAN create from scratch. Eventually I was exposed to the concept in business of "don't reinvent the wheel", meaning to use the tried-and-true concepts and components that already exist rather than trying to build everyhting from scratch. Now I have a more "middle-path" understanding that sometimes it can be quicker and useful to go grab some Creative Commons (0) image from Google or Pexels or whatever, than to try to find a way to set up a shot and photograph the scene myself.

So, what would be an accurate term for someone who takes art created by others, then makes something new out of it?

Since these are called "derivative works" (especially in a legal sense), perhaps the term "derivative artist" would be appropriate? But, I wonder if there is a catchier, more buzz-worthy term that those in the professional design business use that I am just not aware of?

EXAMPLE: One prints out a photo of a starry sky from the internet, cuts it (with scissors) into a square, and then makes an origami crane out of it.

EXAMPLE: One makes a collage of CC0 images found on the web.

EXAMPLE: One attaches a calculator and two bicycle wheels to a small wooden box.

In all the above examples, something new and unique is born from the artist's arrangement and editing implementations.

NOTE: Cynical words like "plagiarist" or "thief" are not what I'm looking for.

  • Everything is a remix whether you're directly using previous work or are re-creating it by hand Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 17:34
  • I removed a lot of commentary from your post that I deemed superfluous to the question at hand. If you feel the need, add some back as you see necessary, but please don't add back all of the commentary I removed. We want questions to be concise Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 17:40
  • There's also a significant difference between "only rearranging" and "using other's work in a design" Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 17:42
  • Thanks for your edits @ZachSaucier! I often have trouble distilling things about my thinking process down. I think the edits you made help the post and I appreciate your efforts. Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 17:53

3 Answers 3


Example one is called "origami," the fact that it uses patterned paper is immaterial; example two is called "collage," the fact that they are downloaded instead of clipped from magazines is immaterial; and example three is called a "readymade," or "found object."

Stock photography is simply a step removed from hiring a photographer for taking shots for you "on spec." There never has been a requirement to make your own "everything." Downloading from google is probably a form of copyright infringement however.

Perhaps a single word would be "assemblage."

  • 1
    I don't think this is answering the bulk of the question - that of having a single term for derivative art where only rearranging is done Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 18:48
  • 2
    @ZachSaucier: I suppose the single term that the art world uses when talking about modernists like Duchamp is "assemblage"
    – Yorik
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 19:38

Since you used the word "art", Duchamp used other people's work to create his own in pre-internet times and nobody called him a "thief". Arguably, times are different now, but I would still call you a designer. You take things and you re-arrange and re-compose and deliver a new arrangement. Ideally, you should avoid using other people's work commercially.

The proper term would be appropriation art in a broader sense.

enter image description here

  • 2
    FYI: that item depicted is a "Readymade": Duchamp coined the term
    – Yorik
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 19:35
  • 1
    Aware of that, but didn't find a reason to expand. Just making a connection. The OP is free to research if he needs to :)
    – lmlmlm
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 19:37


@Lucian and @Yorik's answers both were useful and I found it hard to judge one 'better' than the other. Additionally, each answer was missing some info. I took Lucian's advice and did my own research and this answer represents what I learned in that process. I'm posting so others can benefit from my efforts.


Thanks to everyone who answered, especially Lucian & Yorik. The information provided led me down a wonderful rabbit-hole of exploration into revolutionary art forms of the 20th century. In addition to the suggested terms "assemblage art", Duchamp, readymade, and "appropriation art", I discovered related terms and names like "bricolage", "combine painting", "mixed media" and neo-dada. I was amazed at how Janice Lowry's shadowboxes reminded me the video for the 1990's metal song "Sober", by Tool.

Still shot from Tool's 'Sober' video: Is this assemblage, or is it appropriation?

Stillshot from Tool's 'Sober' video

One of Janice Lowry's assemblage shadowboxes

One of Janice Lowry's assemblage shadowboxes

The most important things I've distilled from the two answers given:

  1. A designer is someone who arranges things and what they create are new arrangements
  2. Ideally, avoid using other people's work commercially.
  3. Appropriationism is an artistic philosophy which embraces non-originality. It is characterized by significantly using another artist's work with very little alteration, or original input, and is highly controversial as it borders on plagiarism.
  4. A collage is a collage, whether it is tangible or digital.
  5. There never has been a requirement to make your own "everything".
  6. Assemblage art is taking found objects and arranging and/or modifying them into something new.

Bricolage was another term that didn't quite make the cut. In some cases the term would be appropriate, but according to Wikipedia, it basically means "using what you have on hand", which is essentially improvisation, or to use a more recent term, macgyverism "after the US television show MacGyver (1985-1992) in which the eponymous secret agent resolves crises through practical application of scientific knowledge and inventive use of common items." (Wiktionary)

Ultimately, I have learned indirectly that one can be both a designer and an artist, but the two are not necessarily the same thing. According to Merriam-Webster.com, a designer is "a person who plans how something new will look and be made", which seems to be the original meaning (though in the information age the term has been conflated with or, started to take on the meaning of artist or creator, as well).


The word 'designer'spelled on a scrabble board

I there one term that describes a person who takes other's art and rearranges and edits it to make it a new thing? I believe that a term is in need of being coined, which I will propose in the Language Stack Exchange. If I had to pick something right now I would just call the person a DESIGNER. Which begs a new question: "What is the term for somebody who creates digital art from scratch, using no templates, just freehand drawing?" However, that is a question for another post.

Thanks again to all who contributed!

  • 1
    Told you you're a designer !!
    – lmlmlm
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 20:45
  • 1
    As to your closing question. That would be an illustrator, of which there are many out there. Just look on Behance. They will probably use tablets and/or Wacoms in a combination with PS/AI/scanned art on paper/other software to create custom illustration, which then clients are paying for so that designers can re-arrange and deliver a finished product. Some, but not all, illustrators can also be designers. Pick up a copy of Monocle magazine and you'll see how many illustrators contribute artwork for the design of the magazine.
    – lmlmlm
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 20:57
  • 1
    One thing I took from your question was that you were in search of a non-negative or at least neutral term. It is important to understand that virtually all art movements take their names from criticism: mannerism ("stylism") was a 16th century insult. Rococo, Baroque, Gothic, Modernist, fauve/der wilde, all insults it goes on.
    – Yorik
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 14:37
  • Interesting, @Yorik. It is like an identifier that was assigned by the "other" to a group and is perceived and intended as denigrating, but many generations later is "revived" and made useful to the original group. This has happened also famously with the "Pink Triangle" which signalled Nazi prisoners who were homosexual in WWII, but later was reclaimed by the people. Commented May 25, 2017 at 17:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.