8.16.2010

Marketing Mondays: Standing Up for Yourself

. Ansel Adams, Aspens, New Mexico; photograph from the Internet

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Last month I wrote a two-parter here called Mind and Matter, on the spectacular show at MoMA that featured the work of Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama, Gego, Louise Nevelson, Mona Hatoum and others. Part 2 focused on Bourgeois's cloth book, Ode à l'Oubli. In the text I referred to a 2004 New York Times article on the printer of the book, Solo Impressions. In short order I received an email from Raylene Marasco, owner of the SoHo based company, Dyenamix:
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"It was actually Dyenamix that printed and dyed the majority of the materials for the Ode a L'Oubli," wrote Marasco. "Judith did, in fact, construct the pages and assemble the book and printed the silkscreened pages, but she was not the only print house providing the process for the project. We actually provided the printed or dyed fabric for 27 of the 34 pages in the book."

This is a terrific example of an artist standing up for herself and her business. I admired her for contacting me and providing me with the information. I immediately added the clarification in red and noted the ommission with regret, including a public apology. Marasco has invited me to visit her SoHo studio, and I look forward to doing so soon. I expect a blog post will come out of the visit.

Mistakes can happen, but it’s what happens next that is the subject of this post.

Here’s what happened to me recently: At the invitation of an institution where I had recently produced a wildly successful encaustic painting conference, a local public TV station created a video for airing. Whether by design or incompetence, the taping took place during a short period when I was away! Perhaps not surprisingly then, my role was not noted; indeed, my name was not even mentioned. I was shocked and appalled not only at the omission but because the institution continued—continues—to promote a video in which it appears to take credit for my work. I saw it only because an art professional in the area emailed me the URL and said, "Stop what you're doing and look at this video now." There's quite a lot more to the story, but that's the gist of it.
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I severed ties with the institution immediately after I saw the video and read the error-filled press release for it. Then I created a new conference blog for the event I had conceived and directed for an audience I had attracted because of a book I had written. Then I set about to find a new physical home for the conference. To my great satisfaction and relief, other artists, unbidden, stood up with me. One artist created a blog post and a public Facebook page asking, "Where's Joanne?" Another posted a series of public letters and comments on her blog. There were numerous comments on each of those public postings, including a few of my own. Some artists emailed the institution. Many others--artists, dealers, curators--called and emailed me privately to say, “We’re with you.” Institutions emailed to say, "We'd love you to come here." It was a huge outcry in the small world of encaustic.
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What kind of conference leader would I have been if I had continued with the institution and said or done nothing? What kind of artist? What kind of Marketing Mondays writer?
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Unfortunately, this situation has not ended as well the previous example. There has been no public apology to me, and the offending video continues to be linked to the institution’s website. Indeed, I even received an email from a faculty member who, referring to the fallout, asked in effect, How could you have done this to the college? Are you effing serious? This is the same kind of thinking that gets women stoned to death. I’m not naming names here because this post is not about the institution (though I have provided links in bold if you're curious); it’s about how I stood up for myself in the face of an institution's actions. And further, it's about how we as individual artists stand up for ourselves and for one another in the face of an error or injustice by a larger entity.
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(Let me stop to emphasize that acknowledging a grievance without presenting yourself as a victim is probably the hardest part of the process of standing up for yourself; the corollary is standing up without stooping to slander--even if you are really, really pissed off. It's a tricky thicket. What I would say for myself is that while the scope of my accomplishment has not been acknowledged publicly by the institution that benefitted from it, I am not a victim. I created the best encaustic painting conference EVER--a fact known to the 250 conferees who attended and to the many others who read the blog accounts of the event--and I'm going to do it again next year, elsewhere. )
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These are some of the situations in which you may need to stand up:
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. You curate a show and find your name left off the credits. At the very least request that the institution immediately issue a press release announcing the exhibition and your role as curator. If it's not forthcoming, issue one yourself. And make sure the wall text in the show gets it right. By the way, artists: If you are curated into a show, identify the curator on your resume; your work didn't get included by magic.
. You get your work on the cover of a magazine, only to see the “On the Cover” info omitted from an inside page. Let the editor know. Usually this error is rectified in the following issue, though it's small consolation when you're denied the immediate pleasure of seeing your name associated with the work.
. Your work is printed upside down, or with a misspelled name. Having worked in publishing, I can tell you that these things do happen. Let the editor know. A responsible editor makes every effort to find a place in the following issue to reprint the image right-side up--but don't expect a full page; it will be a tiny image and a short correction. Unfortunately, this is not possible with a postcard that has already been sent out. A follow-up email announcement might help, but of course it's not the same as that stand-alone little card which often has a visual shelf life of months or years. If a dealer makes a habit of these kinds of mistakes, well, you know what you have to do.
. Your name is omitted from the announcement of a group show. You are set to promote the show on your blog and, uh, there's no mention of you. Create a postcard with an image of your own work to announce the show. A decent institution or gallery will pay for the printing, or at least share in the expense. But of course you have to ask. Make sure you send out an e-announcement with an image of your work; include everyone's name on the list of exhibitors.

Standing up for yourself is not just about media issues, of course:
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. What about the artist who sees his or her hard work claimed by another? Or copied? Or used without attribution? This is legal territory, and you'd do well to contact the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in your area.
. What about the painting that has been damaged? The work that has gone missing? Accidents do happen. Some dealers will work with you immediately to find or create a reasonable solution--and payment is a reasonable solution. Others may need repeated requests to deal with the situation; some may need legal prompting. Proceeding aggressively will probably damage your relationship with the gallery. Then again, do you really want to continue with a gallery that treats you and your work so poorly? This may be another time to contact the VLA.
. What about the check from a dealer or consultant that has been "in the mail" for six months now? I covered this issue a few months ago in
Where's My Money? and When Bad Things Happen (talk about standing up: Click onto the video link at the bottom of this latter post to see the TV news clip of Donald Baechler discussing his lawsuit with the Loew Gallery in Atlanta).
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In standing up for yourself, you may need to challenge an institution, a gallery, a group, or another individual. It’s not easy to take that stand. You may actually find yourself blamed for the situation! But inaction is not an option. Just remember that reporting a story, stating an opinion, and recounting your experience honestly are not grounds for libel (words in print) or slander (spoken words); speaking out to stand up for yourself is a First Amendment right.
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So, over to you: What was your situation and how did you handle it? How did you stand up for yourself? How did you follow up? What was the fallout? Was there litigation? If it makes you feel more comfortable to omit the specific names, that’s OK. This post is about how we stand up for ourselves, our reputations, our careers.
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17 comments:

annell said...

Thank your for the post. You have named many awful things that can and do happen, and have given good solutions.

Ian MacLeod said...

great post Joanne.

Oriane Stender said...

My stories are too long and complicated to write right now, but I will think about condensing them into the important parts. I agree with all your points, but have found that it's rare to get the satisfaction of a printed retraction. Sometimes one doesn't even get an acknowledgement or apology.

dozier said...

Good post, Joanne, thank you. I've experienced several of the situations you describe, and the determining factor in getting such things resolved is definitely one's degree of assertiveness. Artists are too often viewed as the cash cows in the art world, milked by all kinds arts organizations and institutions that are thinking more about their bottom line than an individual artist's concerns...and sadly, there are too many desperate artists who will put up with all kinds of crap for a chance at visibility...but it truly doesn't pay in the end not to stand up for the integrity of oneself and one's work.

WILLIAM CHESAPEAKE said...

Good for you Joanne. What is wrong with people? Did they seriously think they could pull crap like that and not get called on it? Who is it they think they're fooling?

Supria Karmakar said...

Thanks Joanne for speaking the truth...for sharing from you heart and giving us all things to think about in terms of living an ethical and authentic life....we need our stories to be shared, heard and remembered....That is the 'power' within...I have first hand experienced the wonders of the encaustic conference that you have directed, curated, and coordinated..it has been a great fanatastic evolution..can't wait to see what other magic you will create wherever it goes...I know it will be awesome...

In my own work, I always remind myself that when I come to my work with authenticity, joy and positive intention...magic does unfold...I have no control over others, what they steal, what injustices they create...but I do have control over my own reactions, my own day to day practice of love and speaking up and taking action, when it feels right or needed...and then moving on..because the magic is in you, in ourselves..that can't be stolen......it was your creativity and hardwork that brought about the conference and the magic will follow with you....
This is how I manage to move on keep creating even when someone else takes claim of an idea, or copied a visual concept....it actually if anything feeds me to keep moving in 'my own direction' ....those that love you and your work will come along...I know that for sure....
Thanks again for the voice to speak up as it serves us all to do the same in our own journeys...

Nancy Natale said...

Fortunately I have not had any of the experiences you list to which artists may be subject. But, as you know, I did want to be counted as one who stood up to protest the injustice of your not being acknowledged in the local television coverage of encaustic so that credit for your vision, creativity, organizational abilities and very hard work were made to seem the property of the college.

While standing up as I and many others did, I also saw that there were quite a few who knew that credit was being taken from you but failed to add their voices to the chorus of those who protested. I fail to understand why those who had benefited from your work did not take a stand in your behalf. I found it disappointing and demoralizing to witness how many people were willing to remain silent in the face of injustice. This unfortunate situation has really caused me to reflect sourly on morality or the lack thereof by the majority of people. I see it as a matter of recognizing and climing what is right and fair.

In most situations, I will choose the individual over the institution because individuals so frequently suffer from the power imbalance. When individuals come together as a group to protest a wrong, they gain strength and increase their power. This simple equation was a great tradition in our country and many others, but it has been undermined over the years by the very forces that were the objects of protests.

I think that the majority of people (including artists) have come to think that staying silent is a more protective posture that doesn't draw attention to themselves and that there is some safety in this. Instead, silence means that you go along with the status quo; your silence means approval, or at the very least, acceptance. It leads to the erosion of morality, where soon enough there is no right or wrong, institutions (such as corporations or governments) can do what they wish, rights no longer exist and people are at the mercy of those in power. Speaking up and standing up is a vital necessity.

Anonymous said...

With regard to the last comment:
Not everyone is comfortable taking a stand in a public
arena. Sometimes the best one can do is raise a voice of protest/support in the place it most needs to be heard, without attendant fanfare. Because you didn't hear/see it, doesn't mean it wasn't spoken...

Joanne Mattera said...

Anonymous,

Speaking generally here, I'd say that remaining silent, or acting quietly on your own, is certainly your right.

Speaking politically, I'd say that remaining is silent is a luxury, since there are so many situations that can be changed simply by a large number of people speaking up--and a few of them taking action. I like what Nancy Natale has to say about the topic. And I am immensely touched by the way she spoke out publicly in her blog posts and in the FB page she created.

Speaking personally--that is, specifically with regard to the situation I found myself in--I can tell you that it meant everything to have people stand up for and with me. To read "We are with you" in a public forum makes a huge psychological difference. (I also appreciated the huge number of private emails.) I'm standing up anyway, but it's nice to have people standing with you.

Inevitably, sooner or later the shit will hit your fan. As you stand up for yourself, wouldn't you like to look around and find that others have your back?

Oriane Stender said...

Joanne, good way to put it. Sooner or later the shit is going to hit your fan. If everyone else has been knocked out already by their own shit (that you didn't get involved with because it wasn't your shit) there won't be anyone left to help you through it.

I didn't speak out on the conference thing mostly because I didn't know about it while it was happening, but I think you know that I have your back, sister. We should all stand up for each other when one of us is getting screwed over.

Diane McGregor said...

Joanne, good post. I believe an artist also has to stand up for their aesthetic convictions as well as proprietary issues. I have a body of work on paper that I don't want to sell, and I do not want to take the route of printing reproductions and framing them (which has been suggested) because that would completely negate the seductive ink marks meticulously scratched into the surface of the paper and the glow of the watercolor beneath the ink crosshatching -- indeed, it would remove the imagery from the totality of the work of art as I conceived it. I also believe an artist should do what they can to protect the aesthetic presentation of their work, although that can be a little tricky and usually requires quite a bit of finesse so one doesn't come off looking like a primadonna.

Anonymous said...

Joanne,

Question:
If someone expressed an opinion to either or both of the institutions involved in this incident, but didn't announce it on FB or in a blog, does that mean you weren't defended??

My last comment was simply meant to point out it is tricky business questioning the moral fortitude of
people whose actions do not identically mirror one's own. Sometimes you just may not have all the facts.

Joanne Mattera said...

Anon,

Now where did I say that posting an opinion on the blog or on FB was the only way to show support?

If you supported me, thank you. Now let me know who you are! Many, many people sent me copies of the letters they wrote to the college. I didn't solicit them, but I appreciated receiving them because they allowed me to see the tone and tenor of the discourse. A few folks said, 'Please don't make this letter public.' Those letters have not been seen by anyone but me. Others emailed or called simply to say that they support my efforts and will be with me for the next venture.

But your comment is one of those philosophical "If a tree falls in the forest..." kinds of things. If you took a stand, just let me know! Moral support makes a huge difference.

I'd be happy to continue this discussion via email: joanne@joannemattera.com.

marc said...

My wife noticed my last gallery snafu before I did (name omited from web invite) and politely yet firmly got the dealer to make corrections quickly. A supportive spouse is good!!

Anonymous said...

I participated in a group show of a well known and respected local institution (not a vanity gallery). The gallery director/curator was promising a lot of things to the artists, which were actually put in writing and a fee was charged. When I went to the opening, NONE of the items spelled out in the contract (space allotment, invitations, publicity etc.) had been honored. In fact, the total number of artists shown had tripled from what all participants were told were going to be in the show. I was upset enough to demand my fee back. The show was such an embarrassment, that most of the artists were demanding some form of restitution.

The gallery director ignored all of us. I, however began to make my demands with the organization's executive director (the gallery was part of a larger arts organization). This caused the gallery director to be investigated, where it was found that they had been charging unauthorized fees for years! The gallery director was discharged, but the organization still refused to either refund the fee or provide a new show that addressed the contract I signed.

I only was taken seriously when I initiated legal action against the organization. Then I was called into a meeting, where the organization tried to embarrass me for asking for my money back, but luckily for me, I am not moved by those kinds of shenanagins. In the end, I received the refund.

The situation took a lot of time and effort, not to mention the emotional stress and destruction of professional respect on both sides. There was no apology or admitting that I had been wronged, just a refund and a dismissal.

ska said...

Joanne, you have my full support. I cant believe this is still happening. I had so many fatal experiences with academia - most of it because I was older, female, and hired as adjunct or administration to teach art, museum studies and run college art galleries as director/curator. The fact is I did it too well and roused jealousy because my programs got more publicity than did the art classes and students. I was raised to not brag or think of myself as more than a hard worker and professional artist and curator, so it took me 15 years of losing jobs to younger, more self-effacing women or men. This doesnt happen as often to men from what I have experienced, and if women dare to be "uppity", they are also declared to be selfish, self-centered and egotistical. It is none of that but the labels do undermine ones self confidence and truth. Sad. Eight years ago I decided it wasnt worth it to continue working in academia, but the shit did hit the fan anyway and my career as a teacher/director/curator went out with the baby's bath water. I'm poorer working in an office, and have a lot of catching up to do as an exhibiting artist, but I am happier. Wish I had had the means to do what you are doing, but I had 2 children and couldnt. Hooray for you that you have the support and contacts to reinvent yourself and the conference. Your conference had helped me immensly to get my work seen beyond my own state and get some recognition for the 40 years I have worked in encaustic. You and the conference have given encaustic equal place with oil and acrylic techniques. Wish it had worked at the college, but if you are moving on, I can too. Its funny, one of the colleges that I worked as gallery director and got replaced by a less-experienced younger person also took credit for my winning a Gottlieb grant the year I left. See you in June. By the way, your silk road series is absolutely stunning. Id love to attend a session watching how you get the rainbow of smooth colors.Susanne Arnold

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for your kind and supportive words, Suzanne. I am sorry to know that you went through something similar.

The silver lining for the conference is that the new venue has much better facilities--and a spectacular view--along with a setting that offers art viewing, good food and opportunity for great fun.