Art and Copyright

When I first started becoming interested in art and collecting, I was talking to local wildlife painter about his work. There was a work that I thought my wife would like, but I also noticed that he had several prints of the same piece, some different sizes, different frames, different matting, etc. I asked him about what happens when someone buys the original. Did just stop making prints?

The answer was very resolute. One would have to pay him a lot more than the price of the original for the copyright to a work. Many collectors don’t consider who actually owns the rights to a particular work. Is it different if I buy from a gallery, buy directly from the artist, or commission a work? Who would I even talk to about something like that?

I’m not a lawyer. I have talked to several artists and friends who are lawyers, though. In general, the artist retains the copyright to any work they sell. That has implications for some of the things a collector can do with their art. First off, this means you can’t just make copies of the art you buy and sell it. You have to have specific permission to do so. Second, if you have, say, a blog about collecting art, you need permission to post images of that art on your site. If you don’t have permission, the artist can legally force you to remove those images, even if you never intended to violate the copyright. Third, it means that artists have no restrictions on selling prints of that work. They can sell as many as they want in whatever venue they want.

As a collector, I want the artists I collect to be successful. If that means that they make prints and sell them, I’m happy for them. What some collectors worry about, however, is the monetary value of their art. After all, if I buy the original for thousands, but hundreds of others buy the print for hundreds, doesn’t that devalue my original? Maybe. But, if a work becomes very popular, raising the prestige of that artist, which then increases the demand for that artist’s work, it could also make the original art more valuable. After all, how many prints and posters of American Gothic are there? Same with works from Picasso or Monet. Do you see the price of their originals drop because of it?

Ultimately, my advice is not to worry about artists selling prints of originals you buy. But, you should be aware of the owners of copyright. If nothing else, it is polite to ask to post images of their work. I’ve never had an artist tell me no. Most are happy for the recognition.

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Why Do I Collect Original Art?

I have had many people, including many in my family, why I will spend as much as I do on an original piece of art. After all, I could spend a whole lot less and buy something pretty close at a furniture store, department store, or even at Target. To most, as long as you like it and it covers the walls, why pay so much more for something else?

To me, mass produced art, like that found at these places, is much like any other mass produced item. They lack that human touch, the emotional connection, and the craftsmanship found in an original piece of art. For some things, mass production is fine. I don’t have a problem with a mass produced car, refrigerator, or washing machine. But for something as personal and meaningful as art, I need that connection. I simply must have that human touch. There is no comparison in the craftsmanship. It is a matter of quality. I am willing to pay a premium for quality. I believe that everyone is willing to do that.

How do I know that original art has higher quality than mass produced art? First, people pay more for it. This sounds like circular reasoning, and perhaps it is. Ultimately, any product is only worth as much as people are willing to pay for it. Since people are willing to pay more, it is, by definition, worth more. Second, an original work of art is the only one in the whole world. Even prints and posters that have the same image are not the same, because you do not see everything an artist has done in that painting. You cannot see the brush strokes, the mark of the chisel, or the seam on the bronze. In other words, the hand of the artist. No matter how good the picture, the reproduction, or the print, you can’t ever capture it all exactly. Only the original truly shows what the artist intended. I’ve seen many images of “American Gothic”, but the original took my breath away. I’ve seen images of Francis Bacon’s “Pope Innocent X” but you can’t imagine the power of that painting until you are standing in front of it. You can get an echo of that effect, but you’ll never be able to quite capture it.

Another reason is that I view buying art as an investment in our culture. You can’t invest in our culture by purchasing a mass produced object. That isn’t culture, that’s machination. Supporting the symphony by going to a live performance is better than buying the CD or the MP3. The sound isn’t the same. The experience isn’t the same. If you go to the concert, then buy the recording, you get to relive that experience. With art, you get to live that experience for as long as you own the work.

I also want to support our local economy. It is important to understand that many of the galleries and artists are basically small business owners. These business need money to keep going. I value those businesses, so I pay them for their products and services. The beauty of this is that I know that the money is going back into other parts of the economy locally. The artists I buy from are generally local. They buy their materials locally (for the most part). They spend their money here. The galleries rent space locally. It is generally a win-win-win.

That’s why I only buy original work. Higher quality work, investment in our culture, and support of the local economy. I’d love to hear about why other people buy the art they buy.

Landscape Painter Video

This is a video from YouTube by a videographer by the name of RustyScupperton. His real name is John Thornton, and he is an artist from Pennsylvania. He has done many videos about the arts and artists in the area. In particular, he profiles people from the Pennsylvania School of Fine Arts, which is one of the premier art schools in the country.

This video tied in so well to my “What I look for in Landscapes” post, I thought that I just had to post it. The artist describes his ideas of landscape and how he uses techniques to teach his students. I love hearing those ideas from artists. I also like how the video looks at the details of the painting.

When I initially look at the paintings, I see what I’m sure everyone else does. Interesting landscapes, interesting colors, and well rendered. But look at the clouds, how well they are done. You can see shadows, not just under the trees, but IN the trees, in the bushes, and on the sides of the hills. You can almost feel where the clouds are. When he zooms into the canvas, you see his brush strokes and the layers of paint. It is fabulous. If I were there and could afford them, these would definitely be works I would want in my collection.

If you are interested in more art videos of this type, I suggest doing a search on YouTube for RustyScupperton. He has hundreds of videos.

Who Can Successfully Collect Art?

People often assume that I must make a lot of money to have a hobby like collecting art. Believe me, that is not the case. I thought this video was a great example of what you can do with a limited budget.

Of course, the most amazing example of people who developed an incredible collection is Dorothy and Herb Vogel. If you haven’t seen the documentary Herb and Dorothy (which is on Netflix), I recommend seeing it.

What I Look for in a Landscape

I went to an art gallery in Burlington, IA over Thanksgiving. They had an exhibition of the members there. As with most art shows, there were works that were good and others that were more amateurish. I don’t want to seem critical, but collectors are looking for certain things. My first advice for artists who have the will, talk to people who don’t buy your work. If you are at a show and you find someone who seems to look at your work, but don’t buy it, ask them why. Don’t take it personally, find out what they did see and didn’t like or what they didn’t see and were hoping to. Use that to improve your work. For collectors, these are the techniques I use to compare quality of landscape paintings. I’d be interested to hear any other ideas.

In terms of paintings in general, if I see the grain or texture of the substrate (canvas, board, paper, etc.), you didn’t use enough paint. I can understand if that was what you were trying to do. But if you are trying to paint a landscape, seeing the wood grain or canvas really detracts from the work, in my opinion.

I do, however, want to see those brush strokes. Unless you are going for photorealism, seeing those strokes shows your technique, skill, and advertises that this is a hand-crafted original, not a print. I have seen many works where the artist has tried really hard to cover those brush strokes up, like hiding your fingerprints at the scene of the crime. I’d rather see the opposite and other collectors I’ve talked to feel the same. Don’t be timid or be afraid of being “painterly”. Even the most subtle art needs your bold and confident hand.

For the composition itself, I look first at (and for) clouds in my landscapes. If the clouds don’t look realistic, or don’t exist, I generally don’t buy. A mass of blue, even textured and layered, just is not as interesting to the eye as cloud features. I want to be able to look at and enjoy the piece forever. Having a cloudscape with the landscape features adds a level of depth and complexity. Also, clouds are generally pretty difficult to do well. It is a mark of a good artist to be able to do clouds convincingly, which is why it is important for me to look for them.

I am also interested in the shadows and shading. Does it look like the object that is supposed to be casting the shadow? What do the subdued colors look like? Do the shadows look warm or cool? Should they look like that (this indicates where the light is coming from)? Are they in and around the objects that cast them, or just on the ground? Again, this gives depth to the painting that allows the viewers (collectors) to keep coming back to explore the work.

The last thing I look at is the stuff that most people talk about – composition, color, values, and the like. Seriously, this is the LAST part. Are the basics done well? It isn’t that it is unimportant. It is more of an assumption on my part that the artist knows and can execute these well. I don’t want a landscape that has poor perspective.

Landscape paintings have been around for hundreds of years. Those that are the most sublime seem to share similar characteristics. The artist displays confidence and uses enough paint. The basic elements of the painting are pleasing to the eye, but they execute those difficult details that take a hill, mountain, trees, or a lake and make them extraordinary.

Awesome Art Quote

I was watching Art:21 (a PBS series on art in the 21st century). One of the artists, Mathew Ritchie, said something I thought to be profound. “Modern art is a gift. Take it or leave it.”

This is so true. It is amazing to me how much art is out there. There is no way we could possibly experience it all. So we have to leave it. The vast majority of work out there I will never see. I can’t possibly see it, feel it, connect to it. There are literally millions of artists out there that I will never know. What a gift to see the ones I do!

I think more people need to know that. Need to get that. It does not matter if you like something or not. It really doesn’t. What matters is that randomly, strangely, coincidentally, you got this amazing gift to experience this one in a billion work. We’ve been creating art for over 10,000 years. Right now, right where you are, you get this amazing chance to experience this unique item created out of the imagination of someone else.

We should open our eyes and minds to such gifts as these.

Art on the Prairie

I went to an art show in Perry, Iowa this weekend. According to the web site, there are over 100 artists, musicians, and poets. There are 6 buildings, each having several artists. Musicians are in all of the venues. I had worried that this would detract from the art or the talking would detract from the music. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. The music was a nice accompaniment for looking at the art. If you wanted to just listen to the music, it had a nice concert feel to it. Overall, it was much nicer than I had expected.

There were two artists I follow there, so I made sure to talk to them. The first is Cindy Skeie, who is a macrophotographer. I normally don’t buy any photography, but she does some really good work. I had her sign and date the picture I bought, which makes it a little more unique. I really like how she frames her work and presents it. She can be found at www.skeiescapes.com. I bought her calendar entitled “What the…”. Very cool pictures and reasonably priced at $15.

The other is Joseph Murray, who unfortunately doesn’t have a web site. He does really good landscapes, bird paintings, and rural scenes. He uses a very cool process of water color with acryllic in a layered format. The whole process gives a great light effect. He is doing a one man show down in Jefferson, IA at the end of November/early December. I hope to collect more from him after the first of the year.

There were quite a few fiber artists at the show, which is really unique for the shows that I have been to. There were a couple what I would call traditional quilts. They were pretty good. The ones I thought were the coolest were the applique quilts that used the fiber and sewing as a medium for expressing an idea, whether it was landscapes, portraits, and even abstracts. Some of them even dyed their own fabric and one made their own thread! Awesome stuff.

Here is where I get on my soap box a little. Art is a business. You have customers (at least potential customers) walking around. Please, if you are going to the show to display your work, interact with your customers. They want to talk to you. Those artists that were friendly, talkative, and seemed to be genuinely be excited about being there were generally doing pretty good in sales. Those that were sitting there, working on something or (worse) reading had no one in their booth. Look, I’ve done booth duty at conventions. It is mind numbing. Having the same conversation over and over is no fun. But, honestly, that is what I as a customer want. Art is emotional. Art is about connections. Art is as much about the artist as the piece itself.

Overall, a pretty good show. I’d suggest it for anyone in the area.