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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thoughts on Ethics & Awareness

*Repost from 2011...

A recent commission for a Gulf Coast residence...what a pleasure to make a painting for this lovely client!

Rocks from Canon Beach Ten Years Later III:
60" x 48" ink, oil, oil crayon, and charcoal on canvas, 2011

And here are a few notes on art ethics and awareness...

I have been making art as far back as I can remember.  Even as a young child, art has always been a vital part of who I am.  My mind has always responded with enthusiasm to that which is aesthetically pleasing, and over the years the language of aesthetics has been woven as tightly into my perception of the world as the language of the spoken word. I listen with my eyes, and I speak with my hands. It makes no difference if I like or dislike this fact about who I am; it simply is.
Because the language of aesthetics--art--is a crucial part of how I perceive and communicate to the world around me, I have dedicated a significant part of my life--over twenty thousand hours--studying art both in terms of history and of the practice of painting.  The paintings I create are important to me because they are physical manifestations of my conscious and subconscious thoughts; they are the fruits of my labor, the results of my investigations, and mirrors of my thoughts.
And I believe this is the case for every true artist.  An artist does not make art because he or she wants to decorate a space.  An artist does not make art because he or she wants to sell a piece to a collector.  An artist does not make art because it is the happening thing to do.  An artist makes art because he or she has no choice.  An artist makes art because that is what artists do.
I was fortunate enough to study art at two incredible art institutions.  Like many other college students, I borrowed and spent money I did not have in order to finance my education.  And like many other college students, the scholarships and student loans did not cover my tuition, living expenses, and supplies, so I worked various jobs during this time to supplement my income.  And it was worth every single bit of it.  I am deeply grateful for all of the experiences and opportunities that have combined to allow me to finally have a successful career as a fine artist.
Although I work alone in my studio every day creating paintings, I am also fortunate to work on the business end of things with some very dedicated, professional, and hard working individuals who are as invested in their galleries as I am in my work and career.  The gallery owners, art consultants, and interior designers with whom I work do so with the highest level of integrity and a work ethic that matches my own.  These are my business partners, and together we are able to place art in the collections of individuals, institutions, and businesses all over the world.  My business partners are as passionate about their role in our relationship as I am about mine.
Recently, I have been made aware of some disturbing--and in some cases atrocious--accounts of people copying or plagiarizing the work of other artists.  These accounts are verified and documented. In one instance, a person went so far as to copy an artist’s painting as closely as possible and then forge the artist’s signature on the front of the canvas.  This blatant theft of intellectual property is shocking and appalling.  Of course all artists are all influenced by the work of other artists whose work we admire, which is an expected, necessary, and positive part of the artistic growth process, and there is nothing wrong with that.  There is, however, something very wrong with a person intentionally stealing someone’s ideas or work and claiming them as his or her own.  And forgery, of course, is a criminal offense.
It is true that with a certain amount of exposure comes a certain level of risk involving varying degrees of imitation.  I believe that in most cases, this probably ends up being of little consequence to artists who have devoted a lifetime of study and years of practice to establish an artistic identity.  However, when a person copies an artist’s work, then targets a market in which a professional artist is already established, then sells imitations of his or her paintings at a fraction of the price, then it becomes at the very least, a nuisance, and at worst potentially damaging to an artist’s reputation and sales.  While the trained eye of a seasoned collector is likely able to discern the quality of an artwork and able to distinguish between a good work of art and an imitation, this is not the case for every viewer. This misconception allows for the appearance of diminished quality of a professional artist’s work, among other things.
I have been asked to write this by one of my art dealers and gallery owners, but I am also writing this because I personally want to make our audience aware that this is happening to me, as well as to other established artists.  I also want to make it clear that this is very much a violation.  Obviously, a person who deliberately imitates or attempts to imitate another artist’s work lacks imagination or originality.  After all, the process of creating of a work of art lies in its creation, which begins at inception--an idea--before it ever becomes physical.  And this is the first violation.  It is not flattering to an artist to have his or her idea copied and falsely represented by someone else. It is offensive, and it feels every bit like the violation that it is.  The second violation is the public display or sale of such, which is also offensive, but feels like an act of aggression; essentially, someone is taking something that  belongs to you--your idea--publicly declaring it theirs, and selling it for a profit.  This is absolutely unethical, and no artist or gallery with an ounce of integrity would knowingly permit this to occur.  Further, any aspiring artist who copies other artists is sabotaging any potential for a career as a professional artist, as they are publicly destroying their own reputation from the beginning.
The intellectual property law states something to the effect that an artwork or design must be altered by at least twenty percent from an original source in order to be considered original in its own right.  In the case of fine art, this is almost impossible to prove.  Therefore, there is little legal recourse to address this situation.  There is however, other recourse, albeit very little.  We can make our audience aware of this problem, which is what I attempt to do in this statement.  It is my hope that our message will encourage emerging artists to put in the thousands of hours of personal artistic investigation that are crucial for the development of his or her own personal visual language.  I also hope to bring to the attention of any emerging artists who may not be fully aware of this issue, or of his or her actions, or of how they may be perceived by the professionals in this field.  I would also like to make it clear that it is most certainly not my intention to embarrass or chastise any one particular individual, but to raise awareness about this issue to artists, galleries, designers, collectors, as well as the general public. I write this not with anger, but with the desire that with this information, the professionals in the art business will be fully aware of the intellectual property issue, allowing us to work together with a heightened sense of awareness.  Of course there will always be those in every industry who seek to profit from the hard work of others.  However, there are many professionals in our field and in our market who are unaware that this is happening, and making these ethical professionals aware of this issue allows them to make decisions that parallel their ethics.

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