Defining Moments at the Artist in Residence Panel

by Art Fag City on June 19, 2007 · 1 comment Events

I published a few final thoughts on the conference and the AiR panel discussion, which appear on the site here. It seems the location might be a little hard to find however without this direct link, so I’ve simply reblogged the entire piece and added t.whid’s comments (all the images appear on the icommons site however and are worth clicking through for.) I should note that the clarifications Whid makes on his points are thoughts I generally agree with. You can also read these updates on the MTAA site which appear here.



Frankly, with a title like “Building Sustainability for Peer Produced Free Culture” I was surprised that anyone at showed up to the Artist in Residence panel discussion yesterday afternoon. Don't get me wrong, it's not like we were packing any rooms, but we did manage to solicit the interest of at least 15 icommoners, which was more than I had thought would show. Fine Artists don't share the same concerns as musicians, software geeks, and activists, and since a lot conference has reminded us of these differences, I think most of the artists figured this discussion would do the same.

And in fact this panel held true to this thought, which interestingly, is precisely why it was the most defining moment for the program thus far – it gave artists the platform to articulate these differences. Tim Whidden of the artist collective MTAA was the first to voice these concerns, issuing the disclaimer that he didn't want to insult anyone with remedial definitions before launching into a basic explanation of art and the art world. These are the kinds of definitions that sound as though they must be utterly boring but are in fact very useful to consider when thinking about the Fine Art community and its place within the commons.

First and most importantly, as Whidden states, the art world is an entity entirely separate from the music, theatre, or activist world. Practically speaking what this means is that in this economy, art is not a term that can be applied loosey goosey to any object or activity with cultural value. It is not subjective, and is easily identified by those working in the profession. What's more, according to Whidden, no work of art is made better for having a CC license applied to it. Now, this point is clearly debatable, and having observed just yesterday that I liked his work On Kawara Update better for the license I tend to think there are exceptions to this statement, as did a member of the audience who cited the same work [correction: t.whid informed an audience member did NOT cite that work, but commented on a separate issue not worth noting all together – apologies all, my memory failed me in this instance]. That said, I still suspect most artists would generally agree with his statement.

The reason all of this came up in the discussion — and all of the artists were in concurrence with this — is that the culture of the fine art world is such that we typically don't have to care about copyright. For example, artists who steal from other artists and attribute it are credited with the act of appropriation and lauded for their smart art historical references, where as those who choose not to do this will have their work labeled as derivative crap and are quickly ostersized for being woefully unaware. Guess which option most of us take?

Further illuminating this practice in another presentation, painter Joy Garnett provided a series of slides based on two paintings originally cited by Lawrence Weschler (Mentagna's The Lamentation of the Dead Christ in 1490 and a work inspired by this piece in the same name by Antonio Bazzi only thirteen years later), and added several centuries of additional remixing. Given the richness of this tradition, I doubt artists are going to start giving a shit about the same copyright concerns that musicians now have to deal with, except in rare cases when someone from outside this economy forces us to (as in the case of Joy Garnett who was threatened with a lawsuit after she appropriated photojournalist Susan Meiselas's Molotov image.)

As the Fine Art market expands, we may see these concerns come up more frequently, though the community is insular enough that even someone such as myself, who constantly advocates a greater sharing of cultures within these economies, has a difficult time imagining a future when artists become the target of corporations wishing to limit our sampling freedoms. I think we all recognize however, the importance of guarding these rights, so that this doesn’t happen.

Given that the Fine Art community takes very little interest in the concerns of Creative Commons licensing there might be some question as to what we're doing here in the first place. I think a lot of the artists initially wondered that themselves, and so the preparation our first exhibition and discussion is a means of shaping the identity of the program. As for the answers to this question; they have been as diverse as the community itself. Artist in Residence leader Nathaniel Stern spoke about the ways in which he used licensing to make his work more marketable, whereas media artist Ana Husman had virtually no interest in this, and spoke about making the stories of those close to her free and more widely available. As a moderator, I didn’t have the opportunity to voice these thoughts, but I personally feel that video art distribution and Creative Commons is of particular importance, since the commericial Fine Art world has a good deal of catch up to do in regards to bridging the gap between collectors and museums who think video distribution of any kind devalues the work, and those who wish to make lower qualities videos available to the public without charge.

Providing the most salient image to the conference, Kathryn Smith, a multidisciplinary artist, curator and critic presented Francis Alys’s When Faith Moves Mountains, a photo documentation of a group of collaborators trying to move a mountain. As Smith wisely pointed out, the futility of the act isn’t important, it is the effort itself that marks significance. I would add, that the strength of collaboration and sharing is such that the act of moving a mountain may not be as insurmountable as we think.

[…] no work of art is made better for having a CC license applied to it. Now, this point is clearly debatable, and having observed just yesterday that I liked his work On Kawara Update better for the license I tend to think there are exceptions to this statement, as did a member of the audience who cited the same work. That said, I still suspect most artists would generally agree with his statement.Trying to clarify my point…An art work’s meaning will be changed by context. Making a work available via a CC-license may change or augment the context of a work thereby changing its meaning somewhat to some viewers (make it better or worse). My point is that the vast majority of viewers of an art work will not notice this context shift — they have no idea what sort of copyright laws are being applied to a particular art work. Many of those that do notice will simply disregard it and focus on the traditional measures of an art work’s worth: the form, content, subject, etc.

I personally would never measure a particular work’s value by its license — it wouldn’t even go into the mix. To me (unless the cc-license is part of the content of the work) it’s simply a sort of artificial add-on. Now, if I like something on its own merits and then notice it’s cc-licensed I will think the artist is enlightened, but that’s just my opinion of the artist and not the work.

Think of one of your favorite art works. Do you know its license? Do you just assume copyright has been applied? Would you really think it was more [beautiful, intelligent, engaging, enthralling, etc] if the license changed?
twhid · New York City (United States) · Jun 20th, 2007 12:04 am
your call: is this comment useful?

your take: useful lame

I just can’t leave it alone…more here:

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