Who Owns—And How Are Artists Paid For—Art?
From the Archives, via May 24, 2013. Five and a half years later and I’m still struggling with this one. ~Callie
Who Owns the Art?
If ideas arrive on the wings of Muses, God, or whatever divine creator you believe in, does the final art belong to the artist or to that divine creator?
I believe in the Muse. I believe that she arrives, laden with ideas, upon that “thunderous train of air” Elizabeth Gilbert described when she talked about poet Ruth Stone:
It would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.” And then there were these times—this is the piece I never forgot—she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she’s running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand it. She and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first.”
I believe in the artist who latches onto an idea and nurtures it from seed to full-blown orchard.
And I believe that the artist’s final product belongs to her. The Muse may have gifted the seed, but the artist planted, nurtured and harvested it.
This past month, I’ve read comments via emails and blogs, about artwork belonging to everyone. The tune these individuals sing, sounds like this: Because the idea was a gift from God/Muses/insert your divine creator here, the idea doesn’t belong to the artist. Therefore, the artist doesn’t have the right to own or copyright said work. The artist was gifted the idea and thus must gift her art, free of charge, to the world.
Years ago, I read an interview with an award-winning writer. I can’t remember the writer or the award, but I remember him asking why he should give the prize money away, after being asked to which charity he would donate it. His answer was along the lines of “Do professional athletes donate their winnings? No. I did the work. Why should I?” He wasn’t living a lavish life and would need the money for retirement. Why, just because his work involved writing, did anyone expect him to give away the money?
Getting Paid for the Art
Last year, Tim O’Reilly was called out, for saying “I don’t really give a shit if literary novels go away” during an interview with Wired.
Porter Anderson corresponded with O’Reilly, to explain the comment:
If anyone saw the session I did on Charlie Rose, you will have some context for this remark (which was part of a larger discussion, excerpted for maximum impact, as I should have expected…). Ken Auletta and Jonathan Safran were hand-wringing to the tune of “who will pay for the kind of things we do if the big publishers go away.” Jane Friedman and I were responding: “If people want what you do, you’ll find a way to get paid. But no one owes you continuation of the current players and business model.” And I was pointing out that popular art forms come and go—classical music was once pop (Franz Liszt elicited reactions akin to those to the Beatles), and that the literary forms of today might one day be less important.
I agree with O’Reilly, on almost everything. I’m not sure that artists will always find a way to get paid.
There are some artists, such as Arthur Pinajian, whom I wrote about a few weeks back (See: “Louis C.K.: Give It A Minute”), who try, don’t find commercial success, and then turn inward, doing it for themselves. Doing it for yourself is fine, but, my fear is that so much creativity along this road goes unknown—there’s so much that we’d all be the better for knowing. I know I’m being selfish, thinking of myself. But … I want to know what’s out there.
And then there’s the attitude of some consumers…
Earlier this week, Stephen King announced that he’s holding back on releasing an e-book for his new project. The following is one of the many responses to his decision:
Looks like I’ll be downloading a user scanned version of it since good ole SK Decided that he wants to leave those of us living in the 21st century out of this equation.
A number of others followed, questioning King’s judgment.
My anger grew as I read the comments. Why does it matter if King’s words come in a book or on a screen? I’d buy a book printed on the back of soup cans or scrawled on a restaurant-supply of napkins if it was from one of my favorite authors. The format doesn’t matter. It’s the work. I want to read the work. And I’d pay for it.
Paying for the Art
A few weeks back, actor and film maker Nick Job initiated a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a short film. I was late in checking out the link he sent me then, but forward it now as an example of one artist, the pre-production support he’s garnered for his project, and how he garnered that support.
I like the idea of Kickstarter campaigns because there’s a direct connect between the creator and the consumer. There isn’t a book publisher or record company taking cuts between the artist and the supporter. It’s a direct transaction. One creates. The other supports the creation by helping to fund it.
But what of those artists who can’t get it together for Kickstarter or other campaigns?
How to bridge the gap between the artists who don’t have it in them to continue to share their work (when no one else gets the importance of what they’re doing), and the consumers who want the work for free?
I don’t have an answer.
I started this article at 10 a.m. and returned to it at 10 p.m. struggling to end it.
What’s the Point?
I know how ideas arrive.
I know how they’re planted, nurtured and harvested.
I know that artists who produce are the farmers of good ideas.
I know that farmers need to eat, too.
I know that artists need to step up to the plate to do outreach for their projects.
I know that supporters are in extraordinary positions to help artists.
I know that supporters are almost always consumers—and that consumers aren’t always supporters.
I don’t know how to bring out the ideas being developed in silence, left to die with their artists.
I don’t know how to handle the consumers who take but don’t give.
I know I have more questions.
Monthly Live Q&A
Join the 2020 Mastermind with Steven Pressfield and get access to his monthly live Q&A along with 12 new titles.