Monday, August 14, 2006

Copyrights in Art: Meandering

Last week, I had a very uncomfortable experience concerning copyrights. Here is how it went.

As a resident of Nelson, I would like other Nelsonians to know about the stained glass window and the mural, and be proud we all 'own' them, and frankly, I don't think the artists would mind that. I would like prospective visitors to know about them and be interested in visiting the museum. (The museum has a fantastic collection of old photographs, by the way, some of which you can order.) I would like as many people around the world as I can reach to see them on-line, and other parts of Nelson, and share in the appreciation/admiration of the place I live. But then, there's copyrights.

When we submit pieces to exhibits and competitions, we are asked if it is an 'original' work, and the definition of originality seems to depend on the organization hosting the exhibit or competition.

I can't possibly reinvent 2/2 twill, but that's one of the structures I love to use. I decide the size of the piece, select the size and composition of the yarns, pick the colors, set the sett, and weave, and in my case, the elbow grease is all mine. (Except winding the warp onto the loom; that's my blood, sweat and tears, mixed with Ben's patience/exasperation depending on the day.) In weaving, there are weave structures supposedly in the 'public domain' but there is no Bible or Koran listing which ones are which.

A few years ago, mohair boucle and rayon chenille were all the rage; these yarns, especially the mohair, don't render easily to complicated weaves, so we all wove similar looking stuff, showing our true colors, as it were, in the color selection.

If you see a breathtaking example in a weaving magazine or a book, how much modification do I have to make to make it an 'original'; are you allowed to submit a work inspired by another weaver's work, before or after reading the instructions; is it inspiration or imitation? How about taking a magnifying glass to the pages of other glossy magazines; accomplished weavers can decipher weaves and guess materials rather accurately.

Michelangelo did not invent frescoes, and didn't even paint parts of the Sistine Chapel; he selected his apprentices on the basis of their knowledge of frescoing, because he was busy sculpting for a while prior to the commission. He probably selected the subjects and designed by sections; he or an apprentice then traced the designs onto the ceiling, and the apprentices filled them in.

Tapestry work, if documented, is normally linked with the artist who drew the design, or the cartoon, and seldom is the tapestry weaver mentioned, unless it is a modern work and was deigned by the weaver. Likewise with sculpture; how many blurbs have you read where those who executed the work is named? Likewise, I recently learned, with prints: the original design is drawn by the artist, but the plates can be made by, and the prints are often printed by, experts.

Come to think of it, I have a personal experience with this; the copyrights of the photographs Daniel took of my work, I've been told, belongs to Daniel.

Meandering down this path shall continue.

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