In the visual arts, to appropriate means to adopt, borrow, recycle or sample aspects (or the entire form) of man-made visual culture. Strategies include “re-vision, re-evaluation, variation, version, interpretation, imitation, proximation, supplement, increment, improvisation, prequel… pastiche, paraphrase, parody, forgery, homage, mimicry, travesty, shan-zhai, echo, allusion, intertextuality and karaoke.” The term appropriation refers to the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work (as in ‘the artist uses appropriation’) or refers to the new work itself (as in ‘this is a piece of appropriation art’). Art practices involve the ‘appropriation’ of ideas, symbols, artefacts, image, sound, objects, forms or styles from other cultures, from art history, from popular culture or other aspects of man made visual or non visual culture. Inherent in the process of appropriation is the fact that the new work recontextualizes whatever it borrows to create the new work. In most cases the original ‘thing’ remains accessible as the original, without change.
Anthropologists have studied the process of appropriation, or cultural borrowing (which includes art and urbanism), as part of cultural change and contact between different cultures.
The terms of appropriation and variation on a theme are sometimes used interchangeably.