Marketing Mondays: Ethical Dilemmas

Image from the Internet

Hrag Vartanian has an interesting conversation with Jennifer Dalton about ethics over the Art 21 blog. I’d like to use that as a jumping off point for today’s post, focusing specifically on the ways artists behave toward one another.

As I’ve been discussing ethical issues with friends recently, three main ideas have emerged:

First, let's hear it for artists who are supportive and respectful of other artists' careers. If you don't have friends like that, find some. If you do, appreciate them!
Second, there seems to be a divide between artists who are relatively established in their careers and those who are looking to gain a toehold. Some artists are so desperate to get somewhere, they will trample anyone and anything to achieve their goals—copying, cannibalizing and stealing liberally if that’s what it takes. We all know a few people like that. Drop them from your life. (On the flip side, there are accomplished and affluent artists who wouldn’t stop to advise, mentor, refer or otherwise offer a helping hand to a struggling artist whose piece of the pie is barely more than half a crumb. Selfish as that behavior may be, however, the artist is trampling no one.)

Third, “ethics” in the art world is relative. There is no formal Code of Ethics for the Practice of the Visual Arts, notes Pam Farrell, a painter who is also a licensed clinical social worker: “CAA has one for professional practice in Art History. Art schools have codes of conduct and ethics. But since there is no ‘central’ or official organization, like the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association, there is no organizational body in the arts that represents the profession. So, when we are talking about ethical transgressions or breaches, or violations in the visual arts, whose ethics are we talking about?”

Copyright infringement aside, says Farrell, “What might be a guiding force for most of us could be the ‘Golden Rule.’"

In the interest of stirring up some discussion I offer you these 10 scenarios. They’re all true, compiled from a variety of experiences, including mine. Applying your personal sense of ethics—or your interpretation of do-unto-others—how would you respond?

1. An artist contacts a gallery, mentioning that you have suggested she do so. You have done no such thing. You get wind of it from the gallery.

2. You ask an artist if he would recommend you to his gallery. He says, “Let me think about it.” That was almost a year ago, and even a recent reminder has not prompted a response. You decide to go ahead anyway. In contacting his gallery you mention you know him but stop short of suggesting any involvement on his part.

3. You are contacted by a grant foundation seeking a reference for an artist. The problem is that the artist never asked you if you would be willing to write such a reference. What’s more, you wouldn’t have particularly good things to say about the artist or his work.

4. You have developed a following as a good and generous teacher. Working out of your studio, you offer classes in technique to beginner and advanced students. Recently some former students have set up shop not far from you and are offering the same kinds of classes at a significantly reduced rate.

5. You develop a template for a successful art event that brings together hundreds of participants from all over. A parvenu production, organized by someone you know, crops up with many of the same features and speakers that are in yours.

6. An artist in your studio building stops in from time to time. When you visited her studio recently, you noticed a raft of familiar-looking work. Indeed, you could actually see that the changes in her work paralleled the changes in yours.

7. Relatedly, you’ve posted images of your best work on your website/blog/Facebook wall. Now you see that another artist in another part of the country is doing new work suspiciously like yours but in a different medium. You know this is new work for the artist because you checked his website.

8. You assisted an artist for several years. She introduced you to all the dealers and curators who visited the studio. Now that you’re not working for her anymore, you know just how to pursue your career: You contact every single one of the people you met in your former employer’s studio, reminding them where you initially met.

9. An artist tells you, “I have a great method for getting my work out there. When the Art in America Guide comes out each summer, I look up all the artists whose work I like and send my packages to their galleries. I got two gallery shows that way!”

10. You have a friend who’s always appreciative when you recommend him for group shows or artists’ projects but he never seems to recommend you—and he’s involved in a lot of projects for which you would be perfect.

OK, over to you. How would you deal with any of these situations? And by all means share others in the same genre.



Joanne these are all very interesting points that are unfortunately very evident in today's art world. Perhaps more so from the depressed economy and all are competing for limited opportunities?
I don't really have an answer on how-to handle any of your points, yet have had personal experience with many. I continually try to focus on myself and art with pure thoughts on my direction.
Here is another subject you could add to your list: After referring a friend to a gallery for an exclusive show, you've discovered that the Artist sold a piece "under the table", to avoid paying a commission to the Gallery . As always, the transaction was caught and you're embarrassed from the referral.
Thanks for bringing these "faux-pas" to everyones attention.

Haley Nagy said...

Wow, they are all terribly unprofessional... with the exception of number 9, which seems more unrealistic and naive than anything else. If you have to use art magazines as a method of research, you are missing a lot of the important steps for building a solid career foundation first... not the least of which is vetting a gallery, researching submission policies, etc. Short of trying to educate the world about the follies of this approach, there's not much you can do to respond to number 9. All the other examples would affect you personally, but this one seems to be in the hands of the poor gallery owners. *sigh*

Number 4 is a tricky one though. I'm not sure how you would approach the person who already set up shop down the street. But I would certainly preface all future classes and workshops with a quick disclaimer. Explain the professional etiquette of one artist teaching skills to another and let them know that if they are part of the same local community, it is unacceptable for them to turn around and reteach the materials (some people would call this theft). It could be as simple and casual as a quick sentence saying "Hey guys, all I ask is that you don't turn around and start teaching the same skills 3 blocks down the road anytime within the next three years." Explain that this is your livelihood and follow it up with offering some kind of referral fee for sending new students your way. You could even have a Frequent Referral Card. Refer 10 people and get a free class! Actually, this may be the best response to your previous student - run him/her out of business with word of mouth!

AgapiStudios said...

I've seen tons of people shamelessly self promoting and grabbing ideas ...if they produce internal work that becomes theirs all the better .. that's an artist ..... If they ride the wave of other ideas ... that's not an artist. Gallery's would/should know the difference. What's innovative and what's not. Worrying about other's motives makes one crazy. I try not too .. But Yes It's very annoying.

Miranda said...

For number three, I'd write the letter anyways, being scathingly truthful. Let that be a lesson to the person who doesn't ask first!

In all honesty, though, I think that a lot of this stuff happens out of ignorance. As you mentioned, Joanne, there is no guide for ethics in art; aside from copyright laws, it's not something that's taught in art school.

Some of it might be considered common sense, but common sense seems to be lacking in society in general.

I think the solution is more education and more awareness.

Anonymous said...

I have another situation and I'm interested in how other people deal with this, and, Joanne, if you have any thoughts in particular on the subject.

Recently I've found that, even though I have a copyright notice on my website that specifies that images may not be downloaded without written permission, several bloggers have posted images of my artwork on their web sites without ever contacting me. (I found them by Google-ing my name--something I do from time to time just to see what's out there that I may be unaware of.) I want to write to these people and let them know that they should have contacted me prior to using the images.

My question is whether or not I should give permission to these folks retroactively and just appreciate the exposure, or should I withhold permission and ask them to remove the images since they weren't obtained correctly. Or am I making a big deal over nothing (i.e. this happens all the time, don't sweat it.)

thanks for your thoughts.

Kesha Bruce said...

I second what Miranda said.

Not so long ago a friend of mine had #1 happen to her. Worst of all it was an artist whose work she really didn't like or respect and whom she had only met once or twice.

True, some people just don't know any better, but at some point it really starts to make you wonder what is wrong with people!?

* said...

to anonymous at 11:22-- I have had that happen, and as long as they present my work without distortion, get my name right, and maybe include a link back to my site, I say, "Thank you!" to them. It means they appreciate the work, and it means that more people will see it and know about it.

--ken weathersby

Pretty Lady said...

Joanne, I'm a little bit confused. A lot of these scenarios aren't questions; either the 'solution' is obvious or there isn't one. I.e.:

1. Tell the truth.

2. Where's the implied ethical breach? With the lame friend, or with contacting the gallery at all? Seems about par for the course to me.

3. Tell the truth. Or if you want to go above and beyond, contact the artist and warn him/her that this is bad form and not doing him/her any good.

4. Haley's suggestion is right on the money.

5. What are you gonna do? If you've managed an event that brings together 'hundreds' of people, it's going to be very difficult for anyone else to trump that, even by stealing some of your contacts and ideas. Don't lose any sleep over it.

6. Ideas are free, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I'd take it as a compliment, and continue on my own path.

7. See #6.

8. Isn't this how the world works? Building a career without these kinds of personal connections is impossible; I know because I tried it.

9. Say, "Good for you!"

10. Aren't friends just the greatest. Seriously, when this kind of thing has happened to me I gently detach and look for friends elsewhere. Real ones.

Pretty Lady said...

To anon 11:22,

Considering the number of artists and galleries who send me press releases, exhibition invitations, Facebook friend requests and fulsome thanks when I blog about their work, I'm having trouble understanding your complaint. If you find the images while self-Googling, the bloggers are crediting you properly; why aren't you thrilled with the free publicity?

If I went to your site and read the copyright request, I probably wouldn't bother to write about you, unless the art was so fabulous that I was willing to jump through the extra hoops to do so.

Michele Fraichard said...

Most of these are ghastly, tho I don't really see the problem with #9 as a jumping off point to familiarize one with potential interest. Not all artists are fortunate enough to be referred or introduced personally to a gallery - tho' I guess it all comes down to respected protocols. Regarding posting other artists' work, I think this is really a compliment, but not cool when someone is just trying to use better known artists to promote their own work. I really enjoy some of the blogs that post lots of other artists I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Catherine Carter said...

I know this will sound terribly naive, but my thought in response to most of these scenarios is ... if you yourself behave with integrity and professionalism, decent folks will learn to trust you and give you the benefit of the doubt, and they will want to help you as you have helped them.

Yes, there are jerks out there, and there are certain circumstances in which you have to speak up for yourself. But for the most part, I believe that if you follow the Golden Rule, you'll do fine, in art and in life. (Politics is a different field altogether.)

Ryl Mandus said...

#6 is a genuine problem -- when you struggle to find a way to express your ideas, those ideas are not free nor up for grabs. 'Flattery' - excessive, insincere praise - is worthless to the artist whose work is being copied without acknowledgement or recognition.

There's a massive difference between the artist and the opportunist -- the artist creates, while the cash-motivated opportunist can only mimic.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, all, for jumping into the conversation.

Pretty Lady is right that these scenarios are not all questions, and not all of them are huge breaches of etiquette or ethics. For instance #2 and #9. I happen to think #2 is pretty cheesy and that #9 would have a far more interesting time if s/he actually got out to the galleries, but no harm done to anyone as far as I have heard.

Susan wonders if some of these issues are the result of the depressed economy. Maybe, but I'm more inclined to think that it's simply because artists are, as she says, "competing for limited opportunities." Yes, of course there are limited opportunities (as there are in all businesses, though perhaps moreso in the creative arts, where there there's only one diva per opera, one lead actor, one solo per month per gallery, and so forth. I don't think there's anything wrong with competition, per se; it's how we compete--fairly or unfairly. And that, of course, is the dilemma.

Agapi says that galleries would/should know the difference between original and copied artwork, and PL says that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Maybe, but I would wager that the artist who gets the work out first and best, all things being equal, is the one who would be seen as the originator. (Why an artist would choose to out-and-out copy is another issue.)

Haley, yes! I love your "Frequent Referral Card." I could see this concept applied in all kinds of art ways.

Miranda says we need more education and more common sense. I'm with her and Kesha on this. Here, here!

Catherine, there must be a special place in heaven for you, true believer that you are. But I would have to say that the business of art (as separate from the act of artmaking) IS politics, as much as politics is business.

As for Anonymous, I'm with Ken on the issue. If an artist has used your work in a blog post--used it positively and credited you--send them a big Thank You. I'm biased on this issue, since I pull images off the Internet all the time. (Hey I did it with the image that illustrates this post, and I did it recently for my recent curated post on "Spring Greens.") If I had to stop to ask permission for every post, I'd never do any blogging, to say nothing of artmaking. But if I saw a strongly worded statement that said, "I don't care what you have in mind, don't use my images," then of course I wouldn't.

Continuing with Anon, if you feel really strongly that you never want your work to be used in any way--because, yes, there are evil forces that might pull artists' images for use on posters, placemats and the like--here are a couple of toughts:
. Definitely don't post your images on FB, Flickr or sites that will be seen by many people
. Create a watermark (in Photoshop) that renders the work uncopyable. Unfortunately, it also mars the image visually
. Use Flash, which renders the images unsaveable.

Keep 'em coming.

LXV said...

Well, some of these points seem really cheesy, but they only demonstrate that artists are people too. I would be mighty pissed if some of these things happened to me, but it's a jungle out there. As far as snitching images from the internet goes, I figure if you're going to post the pixels, it's pretty much fair game. Joanne makes some good suggestions about protecting them, to which I would add: there is an invisible digital watermark service that's available by subscription. It's up there in one of the Photoshop menus (Filters>Digimarc, or something like that) I looked into it once when I was goofy about protecting my imagery. You pay a monthly fee for different levels of protection/investigation. And not only does the image carry the mark which can be made to show up later if reproduced, they can also monitor & report usage of your "protected" images much more thoroughly than any google search, so you can go after the infringers if that's your cup of tea.

What I've started doing is simply not posting big beautiful hi-res images any more. Saves bandwidth and nobody can really do anything with a picture that's 640x480 @ 72ppi. I've had people request permission to snitch & post, and if they seem like nice folks and it spreads the good word, then I OK it, but I always ask for a credit line with my name spelled correctly.

But remember, nobody can steal an idea (ask the copyright office) and it's the work itself, the execution and the actual object that we're talking about here. Not a bunch of gorgeously glowing digitized icons. Images of Joanne's work for example cannot possibly convey the subtlety, nuance and surface of the real thing; my paintings just look like bad photographs and forget about sculpture.

The internet makes it so easy to publicize yourself, but it also means you have to work that much harder to make a real impression.

Anonymous said...

I’m the director of a small regional non-profit. I developed a weekend fair that connects artists and art lovers. It's a big event here in town and has been successful financially for the artists and, it has served as a conduit to a segment of the public that would never have thought they could afford to be art collectors. We’re far from NY City so all the work was in the “three figures”. Everyone sold work. Our organization had more visitors in one weekend than in all the rest of the year. The event and the organization got a lot of good local coverage.

I never expected what has happened next. My idea and plan has been *borrowed* by the director of a similar kind of non-profit elsewhere in the region *FOR THE SAME TYPE OF EVENT!!.* I’m torn because I know the resulting relationships will benefit other artists, but this “parvenu production” (your phrase) has already affected the one I run. Several of the best and most dependable artists have studios closer to the other event and have decided to skip mine this year. I don’t believe the other director did anything illegal, but considering the overlap in our constituencies and the relative proximity of the organizations, it sure feel unethical to me.

Joanne Mattera said...

Lady Xoc, you are brilliant: "The internet makes it so easy to publicize yourself, but it also means you have to work that much harder to make a real impression."

Non-profit Anon: email me if you wish to discuss this more fully.

Anonymous said...

Gossip. Talking about who got dropped by which gallery or who seems to have an "in" with a juror is one thing. (I admit I've been guilty of that at times, but I'm working on it.) But talking about other artists in a slanderous and accusatory manner is not only unethical in the Golden Rule sense, but it's bad karma. And maybe not smart. Although the "art world" seems immense, these days with blogs, email, and social networking tools, information finds its way into all manner of nooks and crannies. We never know who knows who. And the artist you gossiped about today might be tomorrow's curator or juror.
And, it's easier these days to find out who your artist friends really are.

I'm glad for this blog post and all the discussion it has produced. Thank you, Joanne.

Fleta M said...

I opened a small school of the arts 4+ years ago after teaching a community college for a long while, and have had some experience with others taking the formats of my classes and trying to copy my ideas. One person taught a few times for me, tried to take the students to her own studio,even took my registration forms and used them, refund policies and all, and just inserted her name and phone number! Twice, students tried to solicit students to their studios right in front of my face! (they never came back to a class of mine to be sure)Another person copied the format of my weekly advanced classes, after making a sneeky phone call to me to get information, and now has her own weekly classes. But here is the difference. No one can copy "me", or the years I've spent learning and teaching. In every instance, except the last one, these new "schools" just quietly folded. In the last instance, the difference is mine is for serious advanced artists, and hers has a component of socializing(there is a place for both of us so I really dont mind and it is a bit flattering to be copied sometime!) The serious student of the arts looks for more than the price tag anyway. They look for the quality of the experience in the studio, the continuity and committment that the teacher offers, The work and demonstrations the teacher can show and give, and a proven track record of sucessful students beginning to exhibit and make their way after working with a teacher for a while. Potential students also look at the other artists that teach may in your venue, their professional track records and the quality of their work. I like to offer the experienced students who have special knowledge the use of the studio to teach a course they come up with, if they want to, and boy it is way easier for them to leave all the headaches to me (including sweeping the floor) than trying to start their own school. I think when someone, especially a student, plays dirty in this area, it usually does not pay off for them in the long run! SO if it happens to you, dont get mad, just prove that you are the master teacher by continuting to do what you do. Others will know.
Fleta M.

Joanne Mattera said...

Anon 6:09--
Hmm. One artist's gossip is another artist's news. Sometimes insider info sounds like gossip when it's really the sub rosa passing along of information before public announcement, and sometimes "gossip" is a conversation between individuals who are sharing legitimate, if inflammatory information.

This topic could be its own post. Indeed, I have I have a couple of gossip-worthy items that could open such a post. Give me a few weeks . . .

Pretty Lady said...

Catherine, you've never lived in NYC, have you? I ask because I would have agreed with you until I'd been there a few years, at which time I started examining my forehead to see if the word "chump" was tattooed there, and if there was any chance of removing it.

Juergen said...

This is probably how the artist world works. I hope however, that in the end quality of work counts too.

Kate Beck said...

Hi Joanne -- Saw this come down the cyber pipe yesterday and have been waiting until now -- on an airplane with plenty of white space -- to read and think. It's a good post; tough subject to think about and talk about. But an area where I really beleive focus is needed and conversation to be key: as an artist, if you have a creepy feeling about a situation, say the words. We live closely thru technology -- which is an incredible blessing, but easy to forget what a limited platform it truly is, and what a limited means of interaction. If we approach this -- as well as the artists we know personally-- and realize that, it is useful. But by nature the human element often is shorted out, or purposely ignored.

Miscommunication does happen -- I have had it from both sides. In one experience I initially felt so taken advantage of that I became nauseous in a gallery while looking at work that on first glance, seemed so like my own. Secondly, I have been approached by a vague fb acquaintence who was extremely accusatory thinking that I had 'copied' work. Wrong. On both accounts. But it wasn;t easy to sort out. The latter was such a total nutcase that it might have been easy to simply laugh it off, but you can't -- too dangerous! Anyone in cyberspace can make life miserable for another person, and the repercussions of such a hassle as this could filter into professional ife -- thru contacts, friends of freinds, etc. So I was diplomatic before giving the f-off bit. And I have learned to be much more choosey in whom I 'befriend'. Being swayed by someone who simply ' loves your work', doesn't cut it anymore.

The other scenario was tougher, but more valuable because it was, is, real. There is a lot of mutual repsect involved -- enough so, that myself and the artist I was initially threatened by have become friends. I'm going out on a bit of a personal limb here -- becasue it is cyberspace -- but I think this, and your post, Joanne - is valuable. In this case, I stewed and fretted for a while and then I relaized that things are just not always what they seem. I got over myself and began to really look. To think about the artist inside. MY work is incredibly different and unique -- tho we do embrace absolutely similar sensibilities. As a matter of fact, we are taking this to a whole new level which you will see on my blog in the coming month as 4 artists with similar persuassions explore their work. To me, this has been salvadged as a rewarding occurance, and one that would not have happened had I not 'said the words' and expressed my discomfort.. and moved byond it.

From all of these responses, and from conversations I have with my artists friends, I know the bad stuff happens and it is IS bad. But, I feel that talking and taking it personal can be appropriate and helpful. I feel priviledged to be able to pursue my work and I feel enlightened by the many friends I have who have been helpful in myriad ways. I continue to hope these will rise to the top of my life.

Thanks Joanne...

Kate said...

One thing that I have been thinking about lately is what to do about artists whom I love personally, but whose work is not very strong. It creates a difficult situation where you want to encourage and support a friend who has supported you, but your reputation is on the line when you recommend someone for anything.

Julie Caves said...

These are all, to varying degrees, unprofessional. But these are the ones that jumped out at me:

4. Although what you have taught someone is now theirs and some students will arrive at your class already knowing a lot that didn’t come from you and they may be very proficient already, they should not set up in competition, but teach elsewhere.

6. Picasso famously said when invited to visit an artist in his studio “Beware, I come as a thief”. Artists are always soaking up ideas, inspiration can’t be helped, once you know something you can’t un-know it. Your colour combination might solve a problem they have been working on for months in the same way as seeing a colour combination on a bus or a butterfly would. But copying should feel false and unsatisfying, or maybe used as a learning tool like a student copying Van Gogh or something, to help them figure things out. But you work past that and make ‘your’ work.

8. Isn’t that a big part of the reason people become artist’s assistants? I know someone who assisted a huge artist – he chose her because she didn’t make art herself. She graduated from art school but dropped it after and was not ambitious. So out of hundreds he chose her cos she would not primarily be there to help her own career.

9. I thought that was exactly what you were supposed to do. All the books say that like finding a spouse by going to the places you like rather than a singles bar, you are supposed to approach galleries with work you like. Because that means you might be a good fit. But doing it long distance with unsolicited packs is just wasteful. They got lucky, good on them! What part of this one was the ethical concern for you Joanne?

Julie Caves said...

@Haley Nagy Your Frequent Refferal Card is brilliant!

(now since that is her idea, can I use it...)

Kim Matthews said...

So if it's poor form to identify potentially venues by researching them online vs. in person (apparently the primary objection to #9), is it also tacky to mention other artists you've exhibited with? E.g., "I see you represent X. We used to be represented by so-and-so and have also exhibited together at Z venue." Is that trading on someone else's reputation and relationships and therefore not okay?

Joanne Mattera said...

I love Kate's comment: "If you have a creepy feeling about a situation, say the words." Sometimes that makes enemies, and sometimes it clears the air.
But you might as well say them out loud, and to the person involved, otherwise you're going to be saying them over and over to yourself. That's not good. Thanks, Kate.

Juergen says: "I hope however, that in the end quality of work counts too." Juergen, I would hope so. The thing about Marketing Mondays is that I focus on the business part of being an artist. I'm ignoring the other stuff not because it isn't integral to our practice, but because marketing is the particular focus here.

Re #4, Fleta has some wise words: "I like to offer the experienced students who have special knowledge the use of the studio to teach a course they come up with, if they want to, and boy it is way easier for them to leave all the headaches to me (including sweeping the floor) than trying to start their own school. I think when someone, especially a student, plays dirty in this area, it usually does not pay off for them in the long run!"

Re #9, Julie Caves asks: "What part of this one was the ethical concern for you Joanne?" This was a question Kim Matthews had, too.
Julie and Kim, I collected these ethical dilemmas from a variety of sources (including mine). I included #9 because a few folks said they felt the artist was exploiting the hard work of the atists already in those galleries. Personally, I don't have a problem with it (though I will say that one of my galleries says, "We always know when you've spoken or done a workshop locally, because we get a raft of packages from artists saying they showed with you, studied with you, etc." I think it's a lazy way to research, and I as mentioned in an earlier comment here, going around to the actual galleries is much more interesting and may lead to the kinds of personal connections that are much more likely to open doors. That's when in conversation, should it arise, it's OK to mention that you and so-and-so showed together, etc., as Kim mentioned. But, you know, artists and dealers are all different. One dealer might appreciate the attempt at networking and another may think the person is an annoying boor. The thing about ethical dilemmas, is that they're not necessarily dilemmas--and perhaps not unethical--for everyone.

BTW, I'm amazed at the length of some of these posts. That suggests this issue has pushed some buttons. Thanks for your long and honest responses.

(Keep em coming.)

Kim Matthews said...

If you're lucky enough to live in a place that has lots of great galleries with just the kind of programming that suits your work, or you have the financial means to travel, hurrah for you. I agree with all of you who say that showing up in person and making connections over time is the way to go but barring that, some of us have to try juried shows, long-distance networking, and even the dreaded blind submission. The point is to be courteous, respectful, and professional to everyone, all the time. In the end all we have are our skills, our scruples, and our reputations.

Catherine Carter said...

I KNEW I'd sound naive! But I honestly believe that if you're good at what you do and take reasonable precautions to protect yourself (such as not posting high-quality jpgs of your work on line), there's nothing to fear but fear itself.

If you're a good teacher, you don't have to worry about "losing" your students; they'll stay because they like what you have to offer. If you have something honest to say as an artist, somewhere out there are the right galleries and collectors for you. You gotta have faith, and work hard, and let the rest go.

Unknown said...

Good topic Joanne with common scenarios. Our ethics not only follow us, they often precede us, and what may seem to be a profitable decision in the short term, may lead to bigger problems and greater losses in the long-run. (Word travels fast in this bs) The economy is bad but it has been bad before and it should not be an excuse to lower standards. I try to look ahead, make sound decisions, stand by them, but always, always, watch my back.

Nancy Natale said...

I appreciated reading your post about ethics and all the comments in response to it. I did not comment previously, but I have just had an extreme example myself of an ethical breach. The actions of this person are so unbelievable to me that I really don't know how to think about it.

What happened is that a person that I thought was a fairly good friend of mine has stolen my idea and boldly told me that she was doing it without even acknowledging to me that it was mine beforehand. I had not only told her the idea but discussed it with her at some length. She announced to me that she was doing it (my idea) and even asked to borrow one of my books so that she could read up on it! When she told me about it by email, I reminded her that it was my idea in the first place and that I would appreciate her not doing it. I actually thought that she had had a memory lapse and forgotten that I had told her about it, that we discussed it and that we had looked at a work of art together that was related to the idea. She returned my email after several days and told me that she was persisting in her intention and that I would have to "wait my turn" (come up with a new idea) as she was going ahead.

The idea is not the important part of this story, but the fact that she has taken it and apparently feels absolutely no compunction about it is really astonishing. This is not only an ethical breach but a total breach of friendship.

What the hell do you do with this? I told her that I considered it a totally inappropriate thing to do and not something a friend would do, but nothing from her to admit that anything was wrong about it. This is crazy making.

Joanne Mattera said...

I love your comment: "I try to look ahead, make sound decisions, stand by them, but always, always, watch my back."

I think your first step it to write a narrative of events--that's what my attorney told me to do when I was fired from a job. Writing the narrative clarifies the issue and helps you create a timeline. You might also call the Vounteer Lawyers for ther Arts to see if there's any legal recourse you might have. And, of course, you have to take that idea and make it so fucking good you just leave your unscrupulous former friend in the dust.

In my case, not only do I feel ripped off, I am rather astonished by the people who responded: "It must have been miscomnmunication," or "That's not the person I know" (a testament to this person's two facedness), or "I know she's wrong but if I don't do it I feel I will be blackballed." What's wrong with THAT picture?

Haley Nagy said...

@Pretty Lady: thanks! You are right. The answers seem like common sense to you and me, right? The problem comes with those to whom the answers aren't clear. Those are the people you have to worry about, especially if their actions impact you personally. I really wonder what it would take to get CAA to create ethical guidelines for the visual arts in order to address this problem. They have guidelines for artist resumes and CVs, so it's not like they haven't already taken a step in this direction.

@Julie: Well, Frequent Referral Cards are hardly a new idea, but I guess you don't seem them often in the arts? But yes - you are all more than welcome to use it.

@Anon, yes you are making a big deal out of nothing. What are you worried about? That a potential collector might discover your work? Is it troublesome to have to add a new line to your bibliography? Or are you worried that someone might print your image on mousepads and make thousands of dollars at your expense? 'Cause the chances of that happening are next to nothing if you follow the other good advice here and watermark your low res images before posting them online.

I think the real issue with people reposting your work is when they don't credit you. Haven't we all seen work online and haven't been able to figure out who the artist is? I always think of those artists who create illusionistic chalk drawings on the pavement. E-mails filled with their images get forwarded all the time and since they aren't watermarked - you can never figure out which artist created which chalk drawing.

@Joanne: thanks for the great post - these are hot topics!

Anonymous said...

Regarding #3 - nearly everyone I know, including myself refuses to give a honest assessment of an artists work, especially if it is a negative one. All artists I know, including me crave a honest assessment of their work - that is as long as the assessment is positive. What happens is, an artist who asks gets a vague, polite sort of positive response which leaves the artist room for enlargement. It also lets the artist think, that "so and so seemed to think positively about my work, I can put them down as a reference." No one wants to hear "no" to any question, especially when they need a "yes." So often, the "yes" is assumed without asking.

If you want to avoid this sort of upgrading to positive thinking, when asked about someone's art, your response will have to be honest. You will be hated for it.

Of course, you can always ignore the reference request.

This outside of this discussion, but how does one let an artist know that their work is "misguided" without crushing their spirit?

Michele Fraichard said...

Haley Nagey brings up a good point about artists not being credited and it makes me wonder about collage art. Some part of me feels that it's stealing when someone cuts out images of other people's photographed work and arranges them into their own. I'd like to understand why this is o.k.

Joanne Mattera said...

@ Anonymous 12:17: You have raised an interesting point: the ethics of telling the negative truth to a friend. I'm going to turn that thought into a short post for next Monday. So if anyone has a thought on the topic, please hold onto it for a few more days.

Joanne Mattera said...

Oh, and Michele, you have raised another interesting issue--one that needs its own post as well. There are specific copyright rules that apply in this topic, so it's not just ethics involved here but law. I can't promise an immediately forthcoming post on the topic, but I'll put it on my list of topics to cover for this column. (And let me tell you, It's a long damn list! Who knew?)

LXV said...

Joanne & Michelle, the whole collage/appropriation issue is a very big deal, especially now with technologies that go far beyond simple cutting & pasting (as in scissors & glue). My partner works in collage & assemblage and we have been following this issue for decades now. Rauschenberg ran afoul of it a long time ago, as did Shepard Fairy recently (although the exact situations were different). I'm sure you are already familiar with the Art Law Blog, but if not, check it out. It's actually a very lively read. Sorry to hog space on an off-topic issue, but just wanted to share the link.

LXV said...

Sorry to hog the platform yet again, but I'm a little bothered by the essential message of some of the posts. Joanne makes a good point that there is a distinct difference between illegal and unethical. And ethics as I see it is broader than simple arguments about competition in the marketplace or friendships run amok. Where there is money to be made or markets to conquer, there will be aggressive people who take what they can. I'm not sure that this is particularly unethical per se. Art itself (the business aspect aside) is completely amoral in our culture (as opposed to the church-based art of yore). But in terms of practice, secrecy is as old as technique; all you have to do is read Cennini on the trade secrets of the Renaissance. Competition can be a life or death deal, think of Carravaggio. And probably the wiliest businessman of all was Rubens. Not having gone to art school (or any school for that matter), I'm not sure a governing body like CAA can legislate morality or ethics. When I worked in design (for over 40 years) we regularly signed confidentiality agreements because our clients' competitors were as close to the next best thing as we were. Timing was everything. And there is NOTHING NEW under the sun. I Iearned this from an old sign guy when I was a kid in my twenties. I thought I had the answer for everything. Hah!

Julie Caves said...

Hi again. Can't stay away!

@Haley Nagy
about the Frequent Referral card-
I was actually trying to make the point (not very well) that if I heard it from you was it your idea. Could I use the idea? Where is the point when an idea belongs to someone? (I know you can't copyright an idea.)

lisa said...

I have had this happened to me on several occasions:

At an opening of mine another artist came, but not to see the work or me but to sell his art/photography trips and his work, handing his cards to everyone through the crowd. (I ignored it.)

I recently did a an encaustic technical demo with R&F at my local art center where I teach classes and workshops. Both R&F and I offer workshops, locally and nation wide. An artist friend(?) who runs all kinds of workshops herself came to the demo. She watched me for hours, and handed out cards for her upcoming encaustic workshops, as potential customers came to see the demo.
Again ( I ignored it)
I was encouraged to write her a note but I didn't.

It was a bit weird.

So, we all go to openings to see the work, meet the artist and maybe network.
Is there an unspoken rule?

Don't "hock" yourself at other artist's events?
Only hand out cards to people you do know, you don't know ? You might know? You want to know?

Be polite, professional and have a conscious?

Tricky stuff.

Joanne Mattera said...

You're too kind. Stop ignoring these boors. Say something!

The person who hands out announcements for a rival workshop AT YOUR WORKSHOP is a selfish oaf. Subtlety will not work. I would tell this person, loudly enough for everyone to hear, "Excuse me, XYZ, please respect my efforts and my space. Do not hand out your flyers here."

Do not feel guilty. Boors have no compunction about their behavior. And don't buy into the "I didn't realize it would bother you" excuse. They know what they're doing. And don't be taken in by the person who backpedals on her unethical behavior, the one who offers Buddhist "wisdom" and unnecessary acts of "generosity" to mollify you. Hold your ground.

As for the person who self promotes at YOUR opening, here's dealer Valerie McKenzie, from my MM post on Promotion last year: "I discourage the obnoxiousness of handing out your own announcement card at someone else's opening! "

Here's the whole post:

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone, after a cold call a few months ago to a gallery here in my small Canadian city, my drawings are to be included in a figurative show. During initial contact and sorting out of my web page for this new gallery, it has been announced that they will delete the name of another gallery where my work was shown 20 years ago.. because that gallery is in the same city! I feel mistreated, that this suggestion was though a bite out of my history was taken. Ethically, I know this is wrong for them to change my CV without my permission and to eliminate my relationship with a very reputable and well known gallery is unacceptable. My dilemma is whether or not I withdraw from this upcoming show. I feel that the intrinsic values of this new gallery management are not ethical, yet I feel responsible to follow through with my verbal arrangement to submit work for show and sale.Any thoughts welcome. Thank you.