The definition of authorship is often associated with “authority” when a work of art is controlled by a single individual. However, by breaking the modernist idea of the artist as the unique creator of a work and acknowledging the contribution of other individuals in the creative process, authorship may also appear as a form of co-authorship that reflects the dynamics of collaboration and co-creation. Authorship is crucial for the arts and literature because it involves many different forms of relation to an already existing “text” or “object” that range from inspiration to adaptation or appropriation. It also raises issues about originality, copyright and plagiarism.  Since its advent, the internet has changed how intellectual works (literature, academic publications, journalism), images (photography and video) and all types of artworks are communicated, broadcasted, and shared. This technological change has also encouraged and strengthened long-existing practices such as imitation, citation, appropriation and translation from one language to another and from a medium to another.

Within the academic field, written texts follow rules and conventions that help to situate the origin of citations  – such as quotation marks or separation from the main body of the text that concludes with basic reference information inside parentheses. However, the performing arts do not benefit from a similar codified method of identifying the original source of material within an artwork. Artists often echo or even include copy-pasted signs and citations taken from another choreographic piece as a means to deepen their creative practices or to pay homage to a master or a dance tradition. Codes, aesthetics, and techniques get absorbed in their specific discourse rendering it often challenging for lay spectators to recognise the cited material inside the structure of a choreographic piece. This process is far more controversial when it comes to what is defined as cultural appropriation, which occurs when members of a majority group adapt/re-use cultural products of a minority group to exploit them without recognising any form of individual or collective authorship. Postcolonial and decolonial theories as well as historical awareness and acknowledgement of the plurality of dance and choreographic practices across time and space are useful tools for retracing cases of cultural and artistic appropriation. According to Anthea Kraut, for dance, the struggle to obtain the copyright/authorship protection for choreography has produced new power tensions in respect to race, class, and gender hierarchies that were reinforced precisely by adopting legal (and therefore culturally informed) standards not suitable from a global perspective (2016).

Dance and performance scholars consider archives and repertoires as dynamic and responsive to subjectivities as well as to different uses and contexts. From this perspective, as suggested by Diana Taylor (2003), archives may also be seen as repositories of signs (steps, gestures, choreographic sequences) that are made available to be consciously re-used and reenacted in contexts that are different from those for which a  choreographic work was originally created. By changing the context of a sign, its meaning might change too. When authorship refers to the explicit or implicit embodiment of past or other artists’ practices through specific archives or repertoires then this process constitutes a form of corporeal knowledge. From this perspective, a dance repertoire (whether preserved as institutional or as a body archive) can be considered as a dynamic form of transmission of incorporated knowledge that further complicates the notion of authorship/ownership. To better understand the theoretical frame that includes the issue of “authorship”, Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and repetition (1994 [1968]) illuminates how difference can be debated in relation to the notions of “identity” and “repetition”, and to what extent “difference in repetition” is the driving force of any artistic expression. Through this lens, authorship is understood as part of a process where repetition is the element that allows the creation of identities by differentiation and the appearance of new creative forms from the same input.

Authorship often becomes a space of conflict, as the audience has acquired an unprecedented authority over live performances where the blurring of boundaries between spectatorship and the act of performing initiated in the 1960s is still ongoing in the contemporary scene. The kinds of participatory and choreographic performances that are named “delegated”, rely on the direct contribution of the audience (museum visitors or non-professionals hired for the occasion) who are requested to follow the artist’s instructions (Bishop 2012). Here the notion of authorship is widened to involve the spectators as co-performers and co-authors. Jacques Rancière (2009 [2008]) has contributed to rethink the debate about spectatorship and theatre, and more specifically the role of the theatre audience as always active rather than passive. Looking (the audience) and acting (the performer) are no longer understood as opposed to one another. Looking is always a form of action, and therefore spectators (“those who look” in Latin) always feel/select/interpret a theatre piece, and by doing it, they constantly transform in their perception the work performed on stage. André Lepecki (2016) suggests a distinction between “spectators” and “witnesses”. The former are characterised by passivity, whereas the latter are engaged as active story-makers, translating performances by employing language, thought and narrative processes. What is crucial in both theoretical approaches is the re-evaluation of the role of theatre spectators as co-authors of the staged piece. 

From the perspective of the economy of the arts, different models of authorship correspond to different modes of agency within the notion of intellectual and artistic property and copyright, which defy the art market. Collective processes often lead the artists to shift from the position of “art creators” to the position of “art facilitators” and “artivists”. By doing “artivism”, Nicola McCartney (2017) suggests that collective artworks, created by our sophisticated and technological network culture that enables pseudonymity, or works based on social practices that may keep the individual identity secret are reshaping and defying the art market, its economy and politics. A paradigm shift within the arts is questioning the sphere of politics, production, and marketability with new values that concern authorship, intellectual property and the notion of the singular and male artist as genius, and reflects a new desire for autonomy and different practices of freedom. Contemporary art markets need to rethink their way of benefiting from the arts as they tend to display more and more collective, shared, and collaborative authorship.


Bishop, Claire (2012) Delegated Performance: Outsourcing Authenticity, October, vol. 140, pp.91–112. doi:

Deleuze, Gilles (1994 [1968]) Difference and repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press. 

Kraut, Anthea (2016) Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Lepecki, André (2016) Singularities. Dance in the Age of Performance. London and New York: Routledge. 

McCartney, Nicola (2017) Complicating Authorship: Contemporary artists’ Names, Performance Research, 22(5), pp.62–71. doi: 10.1080/13528165.2017.1383775.

Rancière, Jacques (2009 [2008]) The Emancipated Spectator. Translated by Gregory Elliott. London and New York: Verso.

Taylor, Diana (2003) The Archive and The Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham and London: Duke University Press.