I just finished listening to Lawerence Lessig's book, as a free MP3 download, Free Culture. As an artist, I am interested in ideas about intellectual property and ownership, based on making a living as an artist. From his book, I see more clearly how the rights of artists, living artists, are an imperitive for creativity and sustainable production in the studio. Sustainable creativity, making art that builds upon our culture's traditions and heritage, is a necessary component of cultural evolution. Lessig very clearly articulates, in distinct shades of grey, the difference between paying an artist and the danger of extended copyrights in the hands of private corporate interests, even foundations of individual artists, long dead.
I have been long running up against a myth in our culture that an artist cannot make a living. An artist's gifts must be given, as art is above money. This is so false, it makes me want to scream. Many people DO get that the artist must not only be paid, and must also have control of their creative output. The financial pressures of life in the good old USA require that artists do all that they can to make a living. Where does that mean selling out? Is selling out even possible, if an artist is working for herself?
From Lessig's book, I am even more convinced that free culture, while not free in the sense of not paying, is about freedom. Freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom to have an idea, expressing it and putting it into the world to see how it flies. As a visual artist, copyrights and ownership are even less clear and more complex than say a musician or author. If I produce work which has a visual affect on my fellows, and artists are suddenly experiencing an influence of my ideas, isn't this part of the point of being a visual artist? To have an affect and be a member of a culture, some sort of sharing is necessary to the advance of thought, ideas and quite possibly a new reality.
A story can be told visually. If it is a compelling story and spreads, then the artist has had an impact on society, hopefully for the better. If the work is owned, say, by Disney, and any derivitive works are doomed to costly lawsuits, then the advance of culture is stifled.
As I mentioned, Lessig paints his picture in shades of grey, with many fine lines and balances to consider. The artist must be paid for her work. The artist needs to understand their studio production is a business, not sullying thir output, but as an expression of the freedom and justice for an artist to sustain free thought. Remaining independent is the option I have chosen to continue to produce work which is not beholden to a large, private interest.