Art Fag City at iCommons: Art Intercom Features Painter Joy Garnett

by Art Fag City on May 11, 2007 Events


Joy Garnett, Juke Joint, 2007, oil on canvas, 26 x 46 inches

New York based artist and blogger Joy Garnett frequently uses images depicting natural and technological disasters she finds on the web as a starting point for her paintings. However, the real objective of her work is not to make political commentary, but to reveal the malleability of meaning within these images.

Joy is well known for her involvement in a copyright fight called “Joywar” which began when the well-known photojournalist Susan Meiselas threatened to sue her for the use of part of a photograph she had taken in 1979, as the basis for her painting Molotov. Joy removed the image from her website, but by that time artist members of had already copied it in protest inspiring countless online permutations of the painting. Joy also runs a popular and often political reblog NEWSgrist.

AFC: As an artist who makes and sells paintings, what is the role of Creative Commons for people such as yourself?

Joy: To me painting has always been a remix. It is a really old technology that excels at remixingBut the remixing has to do with the eyethe handthe memory… So I think the idea that thecommons is something we just thought of is a misconception. It’s just that we‘ve had to re-identify it because our culture has become so proprietary and it’s been leaning in that direction for some time. As a painter dealing with the idea of copyright, I see that it doesn’t really function for us as it was intended to because it doesn’t really apply to “one-offs”; copyright was first devised in thecontext of publishing and it is meant to function for works that are mass produced. So for me, Copyright has nothing to do with how I earn my living, and it has nothing to do with how painters earn their livings.

AFC: So given this statement, does Creative Commons have a place in the professional art world and amongst artists?

Joy: Yes. To me the idea of Creative Commons licensing is the beginning of a way for artists to take charge, to try and understand how claiming or relinquishing property can serve them and thecommunity.

AFC: And do you think that the community at large is basically on the same page about copyright as artists?

Joy: I think not; one of my favorite judges, who specializes in issues of copyright and fair use, Judge Pierre Leval, said something at a recent panel discussion regarding this very issue that made me and other art professionals in the audience jump.

He said, “Without copyright, authors and artists would still be at the mercy of and dependent on the good graces of wealthy patrons for their living” Well, we all know that artists are dependent on the whims of the wealthy and that our careers aren’t really affected by copyright. So that was a revelation to methat there is such a gap in understanding between these different realms ofexpertise, that there’s such a split between art people and law people. And even within the artist community there is a gap between those who feel like they need to control their work because people might steal it — there’s paranoia on the one extreme end — and then way on the other end there’s the open source sampler position . And there are many shades in between. It’s very interesting to see how polarized the community isI think redefining the commons can help us create a dialog.

AFC: For you the issue of copyright took on a very large part of your life for a while with the legal threats regarding Molotov . Can you talk about that a bit?

Joy: Well, nothing makes you do your homework like the threat of a lawsuit. It makes you reexamine your activities. So a sudden claim by Susan Meiselas, the photographer, over something Iconsidered just a raw source image made me inform myself, because I wasn’t well informed, and I don’t think most artists are particularly informed about these issues either. Of course, issues [oflicensing and ownership] really aren’t something I consider routinely in my studio practice itself; I mean, copyright laws are not immutable, they are imperfect social contracts that are in flux, constantly readjusted to suit the needs of society. One should be informed and aware, but unless “licensing” is part of the subject of an artist’s work it shouldn’t form the basis of creative decision making. I would never advise another artist to only remix work that as a CC license or that‘s in the public domain. Artists are supposed to push the envelope. I do believe that what I do and what most artists do is transformative in nature, and that it’s erroneous to reduce appropriation and remixing to simple theft.

AFC: Well, I don’t want to spend too much time on that particular subject because your copyright scuffle wasn’t necessarily an indication that the work you do was specifically about the right to use those images, it just became that way in one instance. So moving on, chances are the majority of your paintings will end up in private collections. You don’t really need a Creative Commonslicense for thatso what is your interest in it and how does it work for you?

Joy: For me it’s a political statement more than anything, [CC licensing] not something that functions practically. It may function practically for people who want to appropriate images of my canvases, which I think is a great thing, and I would encourage it at every turn. Although I have had it happen that sometimes people will make things I find personally grotesque…

AFC: With your stuff?

Joy: Yeah, I found a really funny pornographic version of Molotov Man on somebody’s blog, and I actually didn’t save that one to my desktop because I thought I can’t really live with this (laughter). And then I forgot about it, and then I found it again, but then I thought, well, that‘s not my business any more, but the thing is I put the CC license there now instead of the copyright symbol because I don’t want to discourage people from using these images. And in [the painted] rearticulations my hope is to leave interpretation very open ended because the last thing I want to do is force meaning on the viewer. I want the viewer to project, and to bring something to the table.

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