I read an article yesterday that fascinated and alarmed me. You should read it. It's from The Boston Globe and the title is, "You can buy a painting, but it’s not really yours."
In essentials, some artists retain rights to their work after the sale including -- but not limited to -- banning the resale of their work (and often insisting that the buyer donate the work to a museum later in life), determining how or if a work of art can be cleaned, receiving a 15% commission if the work is re-sold, and so on.
On the one hand, I get it. On the other hand, wtf?
I'm trying to sort out my feelings and so I've made a list of facts and thoughts to assist the process.
- Artists retain the copyright to their work even after it's sold. (This is a good article that is very easy to read and understand.) This means that the artist can sell prints and even license the artwork for sheets, coffee cups, notebooks, etc. The buyer of the artwork cannot. They are buying the physical object. This is something I agree with.
- The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) of 1990 grants "moral rights" to artists. From Wikipedia: "Under VARA, works of art that meet certain requirements afford their authors additional rights in the works, regardless of any subsequent physical ownership of the work itself, or regardless of who holds the copyright to the work. For instance, a painter may insist on proper attribution of his painting, and in some instances may sue the owner of the physical painting for destroying the painting even if the owner of the painting lawfully owned it....
VARA exclusively grants authors of works that fall under the protection of the Act the following rights
- right to claim authorship
- right to prevent the use of one's name on any work the author did not create
- right to prevent use of one's name on any work that has been distorted, mutilated, or modified in a way that would be prejudicial to the author's honor or reputation
- right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the author's honor or reputation
Additionally, authors of works of "recognized stature" may prohibit intentional or grossly negligent destruction of a work."
- I understand that early in an artist's career he/she might sell a painting for a few hundred dollars and then later that painting is worth thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. I totally understand why this may feel unfair to the artist. But, I do think that the buyer paid the artist what they asked for at the time and should have the right to sell the work. The commission idea seems like a kind of compromise -- both buyer and artist make a profit together.
- I wonder all the time if my hard work will just end up in a landfill. I suppose the insistence on work being donated to a museum ensures that this isn't true. But the truth is, most museums have more stuff not on display than stuff on display. Do I really want my work to sit in a basement warehouse for its lifetime? Is that a better fate than in the home of someone who likes it?
- Mostly, I wonder why anyone would buy a piece of art under these insane circumstances? It's not an investment. It's not even something you can pass down to your children. I guess it's just something to enjoy in the moment?
- Obviously, the most extreme of these restrictions only apply to super famous artists who are selling work for millions of dollars. But that's also a question. Why? When I sell a painting for $1000, it means as much to me as a million dollar painting does to someone higher up the food chain.
I don't know. Maybe I've just confused myself more. What do you think?
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