American artists must fight for resale rights
Given the art world in its current state, the American visual artist is low man on the totem pole
By Frank Stella. Comment, Issue 226, July-August 2011
Published online: 04 August 2011
As the temporary president (until 2012) of the International Council of Creators of Graphic, Plastic and Photographic Arts (CIAGP), I attended this year’s World Copyright Summit in Brussels on 7-8 June. Seen from the point of view of a practising artist, it was not an uplifting experience.
For the American visual artist, the work, the image of the work and the artist’s name are protected by copyright. Protected, that is, from gross exploitation. Only adding the right to resale royalties, as has happened in the state of California, gives any legal financial benefit to the artist.
American visual artists need to have a national resale rights convention enacted that would put them in line with other existing artists’ rights societies, particularly those in the European Union. Only then will the artists’ rights societies have enough leverage to function effectively on a global scale for the benefit of all visual artists.
Were this alliance to succeed, what greater protection and benefits would accrue to the artist? Would there be a significant improvement of the artists’ status in the art world and the world at large? Would more creatively inclined people want to become visual artists? I hope so, but there seems to be room for doubt.
Given the art world in its current state, the American visual artist is low man on the totem pole. In the larger, more sophisticated world of intellectual property rights and creative copyright enforcement—in literature, music, film, computer programming and patent protection—the American visual artist is again way behind.
The artists’ depressed position in the copyright world makes an unpleasant image. Massed above the artist in the art world are museums, exhibition halls, educational institutions, auction houses, art dealers, collectors, speculators, forgers and—the most recent menace—art fairs. Why is this community so reluctant to help those on whom they are ultimately dependent? To most of them there is no greater anathema than a resale royalty for artists. For the remainder the royalty is merely a matter of indifference.
How can it be that in more than 20 years only two works of mine were deemed eligible for California resale royalties? Last week, why was I asked by a collector acting for a museum to waive my rights on 32 of my works to be reproduced in a museum catalogue of his collection?
In the end, the only way out for the American visual artist suggested by the World Copyright Summit seems to be found in the lesson of being low man on the totem pole.
The creative professionals above us are obviously better high-stakes players. We need to learn from them.
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