Monday, March 26, 2007

More thoughts on an old topic

I have been following several art blogs over the past week chiming in on the topic of taking pictures of art on exhibit. I know, I know, we have bantered on this topic once before and I still stand by my belief that you should be able to take photos of the art works in public view but this is an ongoing debate being heard around the country. This topic was recently brought forth again by the arts blogger extraordinaire Jame Wagner. You should read his initial post here and his follow up post here. Be sure to follow the comment sections on these posts as well. To further add to your reading pleasure Ed Winkleman and his readers expound upon this topic as does Detroitarts. Ed being on point as usual asks,

"Now I fully understand copyright concerns and context concerns, but I'm curious if anyone can recount an episode where a photograph taken in a gallery actually hurt the artist or their career (i.e., in particular their rights to profit from said piece)"
. Defenders of the "no taking photos" policy always resort to this hypothetical to make their point but I can not recall a single time where one of the defenders has sited a specific action or result that proved harm to the artists career or pricing.

Personally I would rather not have to carry around a camera to get photos at an opening and would LOVE to be able to get images from a gallery or museums site that are high quality, but the practice of documenting the works on exhibit by arts institutions and galleries is often poor or untimely. Take the time and read the posts linked above, perhaps it will shed some more light on the absurdity of this hard edged policy by some artists and institutions.

11 Responses to “More thoughts on an old topic”

Anonymous said...
March 26, 2007 at 8:28 PM

Why doesn't Christopher write on this blog anymore?

Scott said...
March 26, 2007 at 9:51 PM

Chris will be back sometime. At times life and family come first and I assume that after a brief break he will be back and ready to tackle more of our local art and national art issues.

Anonymous said...
March 26, 2007 at 10:47 PM

I still don't think people should be allowed to take photos of other artists' work without the artist's permission or the permission of the estate (within 175 years of the artist's death) For all long dead artists, take all the pictures you want! Why should the other art forms get more intellectual property protection than the visual arts?

Scott said...
March 27, 2007 at 2:05 AM

I will probably regret pushing this point later, but copyright and intellectual property protection laws are in place to protect artists from the RARE chance that someone will attempt to profit from their work from a photograph. Why worry about it so much before it happens. Of course the artists permission would be nice but not always possible and why should things be different after 175 years?

You ask, "why should other art forms get more intellectual property rights than the visual arts?"

What are you talking about? Fashion models can be photographed by paparazi, fashion designers always have cheaper knockoffs made of their work, go to and you can hear a chunck of nearly every track on a given cd, let's not forget the tradition of sampleing and covers of songs, what about movies on tv a medium in which most directors would not want their films viewed on, have you ever recorded a movie on a vcr? are there dance moves that another dancer can not use in their routine? How often do people quote passages from a book? The arts are full of issues when it comes to these laws. Art is a visual medium and therefore is best conveyed visually to the public. In the case of the press, blogs included, images are the best way to supplement your thoughts about the work both for those who have seen it in person and need a reminder of it and for those who were unable to view it.

There is an old saying that says, "there is no such thing as bad press", I would imagine this is even more true for visual arts, the more people that see your work and like it the better it is for the artist and their prices.

Carla said...
March 27, 2007 at 11:26 AM

I'm leary of the implication that artists/galleries don't, or should not, have the right/copyright to implement their own policy on this.

It seems so clear-cut to me. You may officially keep a copy of this work, or you may not. Call their policy dumb for any number of reasons. Call them ungenerous control freaks. Prove, with a camera-phone, that their policy is unenforceable. But it is still their decision.

Scott said...
March 27, 2007 at 11:58 AM

At no point does anyone deny that artists/galleries/institutions have the right to implement such policies.

It is blatantly obvious that they do and that is why we question the motives of doing this. Why would they want to implement it, particularly in the case of free press? And many galleries and museums implement this practice on all works of art they have showing whether or not a particular artist cares or not.

Of course artists have the right to make such decisions but I have not yet heard a good argument for this motivation aside from vague, hypothetical speculation. Like, "someone may steal my image and start selling it on coffee mugs, calendars, or posters."

If the issue is not one of theft of an image, but rather the control of quality images of the work, then that is fair. How about making sure that quality images are readily available.

Carla said...
March 27, 2007 at 1:09 PM

Most arguments I've read have been something along the lines of "Yes, it's their right, but it's unreasonable" and there's a heavy implication that it's unfair, as though the viewer is being cheated out of something they have a right to. It is not unfair. It's inconvenient and frustrating and maybe in many cases, stupid. But it is not unfair for the artist and/or gallery to control the reproduction of their images, regardless of the reason.

Scott said...
March 27, 2007 at 2:57 PM

A tip of the hat to you Carla, as I do enjoy these little bouts, makes my day go by a little faster. True, I do find it unreasonable but not unfair. The only time I find it "unfair" is in a case where these policies are inforced in a public funded institution, say an Art Museum. Private institutions and galleries can do as they wish but in my opinion in the case of the museums that are funded by tax dollars, these works (at least those in the permanent collection) are public property and therefore should be allowed to photograph them as long as doing so in non obtrusive or damaging to the work.

We can agree to disagree about private decission making about ones art but perhaps there is a place for a middle ground. I posted this bit to the Arts Coucils E-news today as I thought people may find it usefull. Check out for more on new ways of dealing with copyright laws.

From their site:

"Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright — all rights reserved — and the public domain — no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work — a "some rights reserved" copyright."

Carla said...
March 27, 2007 at 4:40 PM

Scott, If by 'making the day go by faster' you mean distracting from what one is supposed to be doing, ditto for me.

I'm not sure what restrictions I'd place, if any, on my own work being photographed.

But I don't have a strong reaction to being restricted this way, and I really don't understand why others do.

I had bookmarked that copyright site and meant to get back to it. I do like the idea of giving permissions without giving up all rights, and this site makes that easy and clear.

Anonymous said...
March 27, 2007 at 10:30 PM

Scott, I think you aren't quite as informed as you think you are. There are organizations all over the world protecting the rights of artists who would be eagerly exploited by people wishing to make a buck off of reproductions of their work. Please look up the Artists Rights Society in New York. They are inundated with calls from people wanting to put images of artwork on crappy objects- and those are just people who ask permission! Maybe you propose only protecting those who are famous enough to elicit these offers? Or none of them. Artists should just share and stop being so selfish

liriodendron said...
March 28, 2007 at 6:50 PM

I agree with's their space...their call. (not sure what to say about the public places)
I remember being in a large group show once, and being asked to put the camera away when my husband was taking a picture of me standing proudly by my painting. It was kind of funny/odd to not be able to take a picture of your own work....but other artist's work was hanging close by. (there was a photographer avaiable you could pay, but geez....I just wanted a quick snap with the digital)
Maybe it's the old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" being applied.

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