We can be giants.
In general, I find that artists recognize the truth of the saying:
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Some do this by waxing poetic on their blogs about the debt they owe to all the artists who came before them. Others are less overt in their acknowledgement, but their behavior gives them away: they work from other people’s images to make their own art.
By the words they speak and the actions they take, artists seem to understand the importance of being able to find inspiration in the rich soup of culture which surrounds them.
Except that most of them actually don’t understand it, because most artists claim copyright on their work. Which is to say that artists acknowledge that they have seen further by standing on the shoulders of giants, but they refuse to play the giant for anyone else. They remix culture to make their own bits of culture, but they also support intellectual property law, which criminalizes not only full copying but a lot of remixing as well.
Why do artists do this? Why do they pretend that the very uncontrolled way we create is separate from the way we try to control what we create? How can they believe that fostering creativity and dismantling copyright are separate issues? Why do artists claim copyright even though copyright means pulling their work out of the cultural soup that others can be inspired by?
- Is it because they can’t see how to make a living as an artist without copyright?
- Is it because their personality isn’t present enough in their work?
- Or is it because they don’t understand how pure imitation is essential to the creation of culture?
Giving up on copyright doesn’t mean giving up on having a say about how your work is used. Creative Commons licenses are one alternative to today’s excessive copyright protections, and there are plenty of non-legal ways to pursue people who use your work in ways that you aren’t comfortable with. As an artist who eschews copyright in favor of enriching the public domain, you can actually turn any inappropriate use of your work into a marketing marvel if you know how.
So, come on, artists everywhere: let’s be giants!