A little while ago I received an inquiry from a potential customer, with a “regular name” not under a pseudonym, asking me whether painting x and painting y were still available and if I could tell “her” more details. “She” was expecting an urgent reply. So far everything seemed to be okay although I found the “urgent reply” a little bit pushy.

I wrote back that painting x was still available, painting y not. I also asked what details “she” wanted to know as I did not want to overwhelm  “her” with all kinds of stuff  “she” did not want to know. I don’t mind to deliver exactly what people want to know even if it takes several mails. “Her” email address was this time a different one but I did not get suspicious yet as most peole have several email accounts.

In the next email this person asked for confirmation of the price and size, expressed” her” intention to buy the painting and additionally “she” wanted to know what motivated me to create the painting. I wrote “her” the appropriate answer, asked “her” where “she” was located and offered “her” to waive the shipping costs in case “she” should be located in Europe. I also asked “her” to use my Etsy shop in case “she” wanted to purchase my painting.

The next email I received was telling me that “she” apparently did not receive my answer because of  “her”  having problems with “her” email account so I re-sent what I had answered before. In the meanwhile I became a little bit suspicious about all this being okay although I had no reason at all to doubt it yet but there was that little feeling in my gut…

The following email though fully arose my suspicions. With no word did “she” mention anything about what I had told  “her” about the painting. “She” did neither inquire about shipping costs and all that stuff you would like to know as a future customer. Instead  “she” told me a story about not being at home herself but visiting family in the UK, being in the middle of a big move and expecting a baby. “She” was supposed to be back in a few days.  “She” wanted me to send “her” my mailing address and telephone number so that “she” could inform “her” husband who was shutling between “her” home and South Africa and who apparently was organizing the move from the IT head office in Johannisburg in SA to New Jersey. “She” wanted then to forward my contact info to the shipping company who was supposed to move their belongings. The shipping company would send FedEx to my studio to pick up the painting and consolidate the whole move then.

Now I WAS sure that this all was false – a scam. I wrote back to “her” that if  “she” wanted to purchase my painting  “she” or “her” husband would have to do this via my Etsyshop only and that “she” would receive my address and phone number then and only then. I also told “her” that this was for “her” and my own safety because of all the scams out there. I would not let go of my work before the money was in my account.

I never received an answer back.

So what I am telling you here is that these scams are getting more and more perfidious. Using names and phrases like “FedEx” or “head office IT”   should make you feel safe. Telling you “personal things” like visiting family, husband and sister, expecting child etc. is appealing to your emotions and the personal tone should erase your doubts.

But YOUR COMMON SENSE SHOULD NEVER SLEEP!

Who on earth would buy art being in the middle of a move and short before giving birth? What sense does it make to add something to a shipment from one part of the world when stuff is shipped from a total different region of this planet to another? She did not react on my request to purchase through an official shop. Why? This should be much safer for the customer also. She did not mention how she was going to pay – or rather she did not even ask me about it. Apparently it adds to the trick to use a female name because somehow these people think that women are less supposed to be internet scammers. Well – we live in a male world – don’t we? But behind an email address anything could stand…

These days I have come across following problem:

a customer wants to buy a print of one of my photos. The photos are detail shots of a public artwork, an iron statue by Eduardo Chillida, created in 1997, his last. What fascinated me so very much regarding this statue was the transformation of the iron surface into some magnificent rusty colours created by nature, wind, rain, sunshine etc. with a very subtle pattern. I have processed and enhanced these photos digitally to emphasize the beauty of a rusty surface.

Can I sell these prints legally or would this be copyright infringement? I mean these are my own original photos but of an artwork by someone else. What is the legal regulation of such an issue?

 

Through the help from WetCanvas I am answering this myself: I am not going to sell these prints as I might run into troubles. So if anyone else runs into the same question – check out these links which have been provided by WetCanvas forum members:

Who owns public Art? by Kelly Kleiman

The Public’s Right to look? by Joshua Kaufmann

If you should know about more articles which describe this problem please let me know – thank you!

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In January I received a letter that read like this:

“Hello Petra!
I think that this painting is one of the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen. I really don’t think that enough people in our world appreciate the beauty and complexity of a nautilus. The only artwork I can find of them is either paintings of their empty shells, or artwork that is actually made up of their shells! 😦

I was wondering if you would be offended if I were to use a printout of your artwork as a rough base for my tattoo? I swear to you, I would buy it if I could, but I barely have the 300 dollars it will cost to get the tattoo, though your painting is very reasonably priced. I’m just a kid with no money. 🙂 I wouldn’t want to rip off your art without asking you for it, but I find it so amazing! I want it to be a part of me forever. So would you be very bothered by this? If so, I would never touch it. But if not, I would really really appreciate it.”

The art piece she was talking about was this one:

nautilus1

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My answer to her was this:

Dear…,

first – thank you very much for your compliment on my painting. Regarding copying my painting for a tattoo I am afraid I must say “no”. Please consider this: the painting is an original and the person who is going to buy it wants to have an original, a unique painting. It would be unfair to give away the image for other purposes. I have to work hard for a living and paying the bills. It is not easy. How would you feel if someone asks you to give away part of your income just because s/he loved something so much s/he could not afford her/himself?
Also – even if you had bought the painting – you would not be allowed to use the image for a tattoo (copyright) unless you bought a licence for it if the artist would be ready to sell a licence. Just for your information.

I am really sorry to have to tell you this. If I could paint just for fun it would be a different issue. But I have to earn money for my bills as everyone has to do. I hope you will understand this.

Kind regards,
Petra

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Now the tonus of the next answer I received from this person became really nasty:

“Well Petra, the thing is, if you search the internet or any common tattoo magazine, there are many people with recreations of famous artwork on their bodies. Be it the Mona Lisa, or Van Gogh’s starry night. There are also thousands of brand name tattoos: i.e. Cadillac, Hello Kitty. It is actually not against the law to use someone’s artwork in a tattoo. Most tattoos are not original artwork. How would a tattoo artist make a livelihood if he could not give people what they ask for? It’s not like me, or any of these people are trying to profit off of your artwork. Like, “I show off the tattoo I got of your painting for a living now. People crowd around to see it.”
I was simply asking you to use your painting AS A BASE (not copy it) because I couldn’t find any better ones at the time. But currently, I have contacted another artist whos nautilus actually has a lot more depth and detail than yours. Your nautilus actually looks quite muted in comparison. This artist has jumped at the chance that millions of people will get to view her artwork on a regular basis. I find it unfortunate that I was so polite to someone who is clearly your standerd, internet-sales based, starving to death artist who is actually pigheaded enough to think that her artwork is worth fighting for. You clearly just need the money.
Good luck.”

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I did not answer to this any more.
The point of this all and why I am posting it here is that I am really angry about the fact, that always artists are thought to be the ones to have to “donate” their work, be it for a private purpose, be it for charity or any other support. What is it that artists have on their forehead:

hey folks, I am not worth to be paid for because I’m only a sucker, hey guys you can taka ma work for free – it’s of no use anyway – I don’t need to eat and pay for my rent…

Everybody is being paid for her/his work (unless you really have another income and can work on voluntary basis). We all know what we have to pay a lawyer, doctor or any other consultant for their hourly efforts. A whole lot of money even – not just pocket money.
Some time ago I asked an interior company for permission of using one of their photos as a backdrop for a post on my blog, a tiny image from the internet with a bad resolution even. In return I offered them links back to their company, mentioning on my blog – we all know what advertising is worth – they wanted me to pay 95 bucks for one image! Well – I said thank you – no thank you! So why for heaven’s sake am I supposed then to give my work away for free?

In the case above with the tatoo, a “kid” wrote me, telling me she had no money to buy my painting – but she had 300 bucks for a tatoo. Besides all the silly things she said, I found out that she was going to use this tatoo professionally – i.e. that another “tatoo artist” wanted to make money with an original design by me but I was supposed to “donate” that design. How stupid did she think I am?

Besides the issues of copyright infringement she would step into – because buying a painting does not mean that you can do with it what you want – the whole argumentation was childish and immature of course. Too many contradictions which I do not want to discuss here.

The main hook (the story itself is more or less marginal) is the issue with the donations from artists and the common expectation of the public that especially artists are supposed to donate their work (I was naive enough to have done this a couple of times – some of those donations I regret deeply because I fell into the common traps – some of those I do not regret – they really did achieve what they were supposed to).

Maybe someone could explain to me why this is – I mean – why are artists specifically supposed to donate their time, work and money?

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Why am I still feeling grumpy about this question? It’s not my business to make a judgement about what others think they need to do as artists. It’s not my business even to make a judgement about who is and who is not an artist – right? Everybody can call himself an “artist” who wants to do so without any violation of laws – the profession “artist” – or maybe obsession – is not protected under any law by definition – unfortunately – so what the heck…?

Still there is some bitter taste on my tongue that in many cases the audience does not (cannot?) make a difference between the results of hard working artists, who try to achieve something (what?) by work, commitment and perseverance, taking the long way of learning and studying, practising and those which are”achieved” by cheating and hype through devious marketing strategies. Life is not fair – isn’t it?

Copying from photos is cheating – or not? I am really not quite sure. Sometimes I feel it is – sometimes not. I have seen biased opinions about it.

Today it is so easy to copy a photo with the help of a computer. You scan the image, blow it up to the size you need it, print it and trace it on to the medium and then paint it – just like you would have done in your youth with all those tracing-painting books of your childhood where you just needed to fill out the colours. That easy (actually it is not quite as easy as I discovered lately – it takes quite a while and some additional skill such as the right colour mixing. It also depends how far you go with your copy – if you are going to paint a photo-realistic copy of your photo it is going to be not only quite complicated but also very labour intensive – add. comment as of Feb-04-08) So why taking time and effort to learn about drawing or any other medium when you can work around it? Why learn to write and read when you can listen to a CD? Why to learn foreign languages when you can have computer translation programs?

But this would not be art making – wouldn’t it? This has nothing to do with original art work nor being unique. To trace a face from a photo, draw or paint it would not be original art work – right?

Hm – no-one would in fact realize that you traced a photo when you delivered a magnificent drawing to some customer while using all the modern techniques of tracing. No-one in fact would be able to decide whether you really have learned to draw a face or whether you have just copied it. The audience out there won’t realize. So what’s the problem then? Would this be cheating? Is it important at all whether you are capable of drawing a face? (This is a question I often hear among “artists”) Wouldn’t it be sufficient to know how to achieve the result you want to have – no matter which techniques you used?

Art history shows that through all the centuries artists have used all sorts of technical aids. Think of the camera obscura, whose simple technique helped the artists to trace objects in the right perspective. Nobody would have ever thought about cheating using this simple technique.

Isn’t art making also about experimenting, inventing new techniques, using traditional techniques in new contexts, creating images in a new “dress”, about modifying traditions and techniques? You could say “hello – we live in the 21st century! We live in the era of the digital image! So what’s this fuss about cheating?”

But art making is also about being curious, it’s about learning how something works, it’s about discovery of unknown materials and how to find an answer to a question, it’s about expanding the visual world and finally about being a human who is capable of something that divides us from the animals: doing something artificial that is meant for decoration by intent not by instinct (because this would apply to several birds also which use decorations as part of their mating ritual – just as an example).

In the beginning of the 20th century the medium “collage” became a greater part of modern art, reinforced by Picasso and Georges Bracques, which in fact was an assemblage of different materials and art forms – thus also using old photos (not their own) and other stuff to form a new work of art. Unfortunately this has become a kind of overestimated trendy art form which in my opinion has declined into some handicraft items which are sold as cheap gifts by the thousands. Also this does not request specific capabilities such as carving or drawing skills – it requires a feeling for composition and other basic skills though, in order to result in a piece of art. So where is the commonly valid definition who is to be called a true artist and who not?

Maybe one could see it that way: if you try to “sell” an art work as an original drawing from life and you tracked it from a photo – then this would be cheating. If you copy a face from a magazine and “sell” it as an original fine art painting – this would be cheating and additionally violating copyrights.

So what could we – and should we – do about all the fakes out there? Is there a way to say ” hey – you bastard – you collected all the praise for something that was not really accomplished by your skills – you cheated!” or should we rather say “hey – congratulations – for being so clever to have found a way how to work around all those requirements and achieving a result in almost economical way!”? What would we lose or gain in either way?

It would be interesting to get to know whether the audience is really interested in the how-tos of an art work. I think it isn’t. The brouhaha some artists achieve on the basis of tricks and pretensions is annoying but not extinctable. And it is not even new! It is always unfair when people gain attention and make money with cheating – but this is how the world is – not only in the art world. Statistics speak of about 1 third of the CV’s that are presented at companies being fakes. 30 % of lies! And when I read about some artist’s resumés and what they say they have achieved – my BS detector goes crazy – whereas it is so easy to check this out. You only need to do some small inquiries on the Internet – and here it goes – the lie. Why – for heaven’s sake – do people not use this resource and their common sense? I wished people would check things out more thoroughly and see what is there to see.