Mona Lisa vs. Mona Lisa

A new take on the original or a ripoff that steals someone else's work? This question will likely continue to emerge throughout the era of digital art. Let's dive into the work and exploits of Joo Jae-bum.
Since being dubbed the "Mona Lisa" in Giorgio Vasari's "Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects," Leonardo da Vinci's painting has evolved to become an icon of Renaissance art -- in many ways a symbol of art itself. Photo: Wikimedia.
Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is arguably the most famous painting in human history. It has inspired countless variations, interpretations and parodies, including Marcel Duchamp's; Andy Warhol's, and Fernando Botero's version.
Fernando Botero made waves with his version of the Mona Lisa. Photo: Wikiart (
But few people look at the work of Warhol or Botero and call it plagiarism. That's because the Mona Lisa is so universally known that nobody can look at a variation and not think of the original.
Pixel artist Joo Jae-bum's version of the Mona Lisa. Check out his Instagram page to see more versions. Photo:
Joo Jae-bum is another artist that offers his own take on the Mona Lisa. Joo is known for his pixel art, which involves creating images by arranging individual dots. It's a very time-consuming process.
Some may view the Monas NFT series as plagiarism of Joo's work. Photos: OpenSea
However, Joo recently discovered that images that closely resemble his work were being sold as NFTs on OpenSea. The Monas account has over a thousand such images, and has supposedly raked in over $250,000.
The Monas series is generative art. Generative art, an emerging genre, is a form of art that employs an autonomous system. However, the Monas series seems to have used Joo's work without his permission. In an interview with CoinDesk Korea, Joo claimed that "the number of pixels and their exact coordinates were identical" to images in his own work.
Korean digital artist DeeKay has made similar claims. One of DeeKay's creations is the "Hipster Llama."
Check out the creation process behind DeeKay's "Hipster Llama" on Instagram and YouTube:
A piece of generative art called "Crypto Baby Llama" suspiciously resembles DeeKay's llama. It's debatable whether generative art constitutes plagiarism, but if it blatantly employs someone else's work, shouldn't we call it what it is?
The NFT market is still in its nascent stages. There is no established order that clearly states the differences between reinterpretation, parody and plagiarism. It may take a while before we see one. Until then, how can we protest artists? Not an easy question, but one that needs to be answered.
Banner image: Zach Dyson/Unsplash
Written by Kim Tae-kwon,
Translated by Felix Im,