What is an artwork worth?

Submitted by martha on September 23, 2010 – 9:39am
Rebecca Belmore: ” [Worth] started out with the whole idea of: what is an artwork worth? Who is allowed to give and who is allowed to take? So it’s all about giving and taking and the fact that the art – not just the object, more the idea – belongs to me. Artists are very generous people and I wanted to publicly illustrate that.”
Art is a gift. One that is often undervalued. In my previous post excerpting Alan Toner’s prescription for remunerating creators there are many streams of revenue that are imagined that enable artists to retain control over their work.

Carole Pope’s op-ed in the Globe & Mail spoke very powerfully about both her connection to her work as well as her need for a livelihood. This is a commonly misunderstood reality about artists that they are generous and are often not the beneficiaries of the funds that seem to flow to the industry – hence their sometimes irrational clinging to meagre streams of revenue when there is not a widely acceptable alternative, particularly so where government abdicates its role in fostering a diverse arts and culture sector. Tony Clement’s reference to wealth destroyers supposes that the beneficiaries of the system as it currently stands are wealthy when this is anything but true. The language that we are using continues to obscure rather than clarify what our policy is and where the balance truly lies.

These thoughts are echoed in Cory Doctorow’s recent post in The Guardian. “[I]f you want to find someone who supports artists, look at organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who have advanced the cause of blanket licences for music, video and other creative works on the internet. As a songwriter, you’ll be familiar with these licences: as you say, you get 3% every time someone performs your songs on stage. What EFF has asked for is the same deal for the net: let ISPs buy blanket licences on behalf of their customers, licences that allow them to share all the music they’re going to share anyway – but this way, artists get paid. Incidentally, this is also an approach favored by Larry Lessig, whom you also single out as “ironic” in your piece. . . . It’s been 15 years since the US National Information Infrastructure hearings kicked off the digital copyright wars. And for all the extraordinary power grabbed by the entertainment giants since then, the letters of marque and the power to disconnect and the power to censor and the power to eavesdrop, none of it is paying artists. Those who say that they can control copies are wrong, and they will not profit by their strategy. They should be entitled to ruin their own lives, businesses and careers, but not if they’re going to take down the rest of society in the process.”

Some people reading this may find it surprising to find out that the EFF and Lessig himself have repeatedly supported the principle of blanket licenses and levies. We would all do well to remember this or we may find ourselves looking into a very different future:

“In the future, you won’t buy artists’ works; you’ll buy software that makes original pieces of “their” works, or that recreates their way of looking at things.”
Brian Eno, Wired 3.05, May 1995, p. 15o

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