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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ethics in Art - The Art of Other Peoples Art

Its a question some artists may have never considered before. But because part of my art is in the digital world and part in the real world it sometimes places me in a confusing ethical quandary from time to time.

Where is the boundary between using other peoples art in your own art?

You would think the question would clear cut and simple but its not.

Let me show you some examples.

This was a photo taken many years ago when I first came to New Orleans. Its rarely been seen as I felt after it was finished that it wasn't right for me to make a piece of my own art. It was taken on a rainy night and to be honest I fell in love with it once I completed it. But with some amount of guilt as it represents the work of other artists as well as my own work. So is the line crossed in using another artists work here? Or is it my own also?

Now it gets murkier. This was a wall of graffiti in an alleyway. Again the photo was taken early in my career, so don't judge by the quality. But often photographers photograph graffiti and do not think twice about making the photo their own? I know one photographer who makes a complete living off of photographing graffiti and selling the prints. Where is the ethical line between the first photo above and this one? Why is one right and the other wrong?

This photo was for an underwear ad. I wanted a dynamic background for the shoot and this was perfect for it. No one questioned the ethics of the photo even though it became an internationally distributed ad. I did not even question the ethics of it. Using graffiti as a background is not considered a problem, yet the fact remains that if using one persons art is not okay, where is the boundary?

Now it gets murkier. What of using the art of another in a more abstract form? Here is a Tiffany lamp photographed through a window which was reflecting the buildings across the street from it. Would anyone question the ethics of the shot? 

For photographers especially these are questions we should consider. Even though there is no easy answer to the problem but often do not even think about. But as a Visual Artist, I do consider it because I consider how I would feel if my art were used by another artist. Here is a perfect example.

No one would question whether this was a piece of art. In fact its three pieces of art because it was a body painting, a photograph and eventually this piece of digital art. But whats not known is that while I was painting the model, there was also a photographer in my studio photographing some of the setup shots for the piece and there was also a sketch artist present who was drawing the model while I painted him. So was the photographer in the wrong for using my art as part of his portfolio? Yes I gave him permission to do so, but what if I had been painting the model in a public space (which I am known to do from time to time). What if the photographer had been in the crowd and snapped some damn good photos? Is there an ethical boundary crossed? What if that photographer then went out and sold that photo for $10,000 without credit due to any of the parties involved? 

And what of the sketch artist? Aren't the drawings his own? Should he by right acknowledge all the other parties involved?

See, I could go one an on like this, bringing up example after example. While there may be legal precedence to back up some of these actions, the likely hood is that most artists and photographers wouldn't have a clue what they are. Nor would they care at the time the piece was created. 

So for me, I try to use a rule of thumb that say's if I question its authenticity as my own, I don't use it or try to sell it. Its simply about the balance for me and the circumstances and also where the art is positioned. If I walk into a private gallery and start snapping photos I've crossed the ethical border. If I photograph the same gallery from the street, the ethical border becomes a lot more vague. 

So where is your ethical border? Is that border different for you depending on whether your a photographer or a visual artist? Where is the line?


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