Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

David Hockney, copyright, and the five stages of grief in my free culture activism

2013 . 12 . 09 - Comments / Commentaires (19)

As I surf the Interwebs in search of inspiration for my life, for my work, and for this blog, I’m regularly confronted by a thing I don’t love: the ©.

I find it on artist’s sites, often accompanied by stern warnings and sometimes by more courteous requests for civility. And every time I come across the copyright symbol, my heart sinks. It means one less person is questioning the copyright paradigm, one less creative is thinking outside the intellectual property box.

Still, I get it. I understand that it’s how we were all raised to think. We believe in the deepest part of ourselves that if we make a thing it belongs to us, even as we release it into the world hoping it will be thoroughly enjoyed by others (though only in the “right” ways). I may not agree with this view, but I get where it comes from.

Then, the other day, I came upon David Hockney’s site.

screenshot of David Hockney's website

screenshot of David Hockney’s website splash page

This is what his splash page looks like.

screenshot of David Hockney's website

screenshot of David Hockney’s website warning page

And, when you “enter” his site, you get this warning page…

screenshot of David Hockney's website

screenshot of David Hockney’s website warning page

...which turns into this when you put your mouse in the right spot.

Now, before happening upon Hockney’s very unwelcoming welcome, I think I was depressed about the state of the free culture movement, but I was also starting to accept that some people will never doubt copyright’s usefulness. I was definitely beyond denial, anger, and bargaining in any case, but Hockney’s choices sent me right back to denial.

To explain: I’m using Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief to talk about my feelings because of Jean Russell, a culture hacker I met at a conference who recently brought up the idea that people approach their activism in much the same way as they grieve for the world being not quite as they would like it to be.

Jean wrote on Facebook:

I think we would do well to consider every kind of activism within the framework of the stages of grief. People are at different stages, and we create different ways for people to engage based on what stage they are in. Whether you are in denial or anger or bargaining or depression or acceptance phase (and we call each other out if we are in different phases) both individuals and society as a whole is going through a grieving process. And if we can hold that frame, then we can have more compassion for those of us in a different phase of that process.

If you’ve ever been bitten my the activist bug, you know the truth of Jean’s words. The passion of activism comes in waves, and it makes a lot of sense to match up the different sorts of activist expression with the Kübler-Ross model.

And I know this viscerally at the moment, because the first thing I did upon discovering Hockney’s warning page was to reject the idea that this was actually his site. I clicked “I agree” even though I totally don’t because I needed to see if this site was for real.

screenshot of David Hockney's website

screenshot of David Hockney’s website home page

I’m pretty sure it is.

And that’s when I got my rage on, but just briefly. Then I took a breath. I thought maybe something had happened to Hockney to make him be this way and if only someone would talk with him about it he’d be more reasonable. And then I didn’t care and didn’t think any excuse was good enough. So, ya, I made it back to depression, but it’s tinged with the get-it-done attitude of acceptance.

Whatever you think of my little grief dance, it’s important to note that the impetus was Hockney’s unethical behavior. When the artist says that we may not reproduce his content “anywhere at anytime in any form” he is lying. He is also throwing the authority of his fame and his money behind the lie. 

Under copyright law, we can reproduce his images and words as I’ve just done, in order to comment on them. This follows from the fair use limitation on copyright, and the denial that this limitation exists is obviously part of Hockney’s own process of grief.

screenshot of Wikipedia

screenshot of the Wikipedia page explaining the rationale for its use of Hockney’s image

It’s okay to not want to question copyright. I mean, intellectual property law is causing big problems for society, but I get why you’d want to avoid thinking about it. It’s so daunting and complicated that even entities like Wikipedia are nervous about it.

That said, it’s not okay to use scare tactics to get others to submit to your will and your worldview. Teach yourself about copyright—read this book, watch this documentary, and learn about Creative Commons for starters—and, whatever you end up believing, please don’t lie to support your beliefs.

- Surveying the give and take of sharing art
- The lie of the artist’s livelihood / Le mythe de comment un artiste vit de son art
- Austin Kleon: creativity, copyright, and superstition

CATEGORIES: - English - Featuring artists - Philosophy - Reviews - Uncopyright -

Gwenn Seemel on Liberapay     Gwenn Seemel on Patreon

(19) Comments / Commentaires: David Hockney, copyright, and the five stages of grief in my free culture activism

-- Libby Fife -- 2013 . 12 . 09 --


I liken it to finding out that someone you admire is really a bonehead.

With that said, just to comment on the one point only about the stages of grief. I think of most everything like this, that it is fluid. That includes people’s thinking. It helps me to accept when people do bad things or things I disagree with. It’s the possibility to evolve and change your mind or learn new things to take the place of old things. I always hope that people will come round to a different way of thinking or acting.

And good points about learning more about the topics you suggested. I mean to do it!

Thanks again for a good topic,

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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 12 . 10 --

It’s very true that our ideas often evolve and change.  It’s like with painting.  When I’m making a mark, I’m usually convinced it’s the right one, but often with a day to rest my eyes and see the piece anew I see that it’s really not!

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-- kate powell -- 2013 . 12 . 14 --

Hockney has either decided to let lawyers run his website or is a dick.  It also made me sad; Hockney is one of my favorites.  But not all of them do this stuff: look at Billy Al, a favorite of mine—if he has a copyright clause on his site I have not seen it, tho he may:  http://www.billyalbengston.com/  He is an irreverent cuss to be sure (he is instrumental in me doing art, a former acquaintance in lalaland.

And your activism continues to move me.  I am on the fence.  When I think of copyright I think of the gap using artwork, not you or me or a student drawing at a museum, studying a favorite artists, or being influenced by an artist.  I have been reading MANY blog posts on copyright, and, BTW, have had some serious buttheads try to comment on my own blog posts in disagreement or agreement with things said on my last rather insignificant post on my blog (I declined to publish due to personal attacks.)

I read a huge blog post by one of my least favorite art critics because it was on this subject.  He spent HOURS searching for exact photographic images to prove that another artist (let’s call her X) had lifted her drawings by tracing a photographers image.  I was mesmerized by the amazing number of artists who chastised X for tracing (how dare she) and then stealing the images in the first place.  I was shocked. 

I don’t care how anyone makes art, and know some artists who have stretched beyond their skill levels because they had an idea, and (horrifying) TRACED a photograph!! 

X’s images took the photographs and let’s say, traced a linear drawing, then she did all kinds of things to them, melding things from here and there to create a pleasing line of cards.  They did not in any way resemble the photographs except that they were posed like the animals.  I cannot see the “copyright infringement” in this case at all.  And so here we are, a young artist being hassled by other (I think) jealous artist while she makes a living with some random drawings taken from several different photographers just because she didn’t travel to the Arctic Circle herself.  She may be sued.  I just don’t get it.

Don’t lose your passion or your anger.  It is moving, and I will read the links in the next month.  I think of copyright for myself in a particular way, and may be I need to make the following statement: 

“© is meant for any corporation that likes my stuff enuf to want to steal it.  For all the artists out there that want to borrow anything, go right ahead.”


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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 12 . 15 --

@Kate: You can certainly use your phrasing, but that concept of copyright already comes encapsulated in the Creative Commons NonCommercial license.  I know I’ve recommended it several times to you in various places on the Web, but I am certain this video explaining Creative Commons will make your day!

As for the Gap or other companies stealing your art, I have to say that the Gap actually bought my art a few months back, and my guess is that more corporations pay artists than steal from them.  We just hear about the stealing because it’s much more shocking. 

And let’s face it, companies are probably not paying for the art because it’s the legal thing to do.  After all, corporations are not known for being particularly law-abiding entities—something about “limited liability” and the fact that companies aren’t actually people who could go to jail for being bad.  No, companies pay for art to avoid having an Internet full of creatives get mad at them and make them look like bullies that no one wants to buy from.

Finally, with regards to the Lisa Congdon debacle, as I understand it, a lot of people are angry not because she traced other people’s photos to make her drawings, but because she was so strident in her condemnation of Cody Foster stealing her work and meanwhile she was not completely on the up-and-up about her use of other people’s art.  The mob does love to point to the hypocrite. 

I’ll be fascinated to see how Congdon responds when she finally does, but in the meantime I’m glad she has gotten artists to think a little harder about copyright!

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-- Darla -- 2014 . 01 . 12 --

Gwenn, the link you provided for the documentary is working but when you try to play the clip, it says the show has been removed from Blip. Not sure if this is available to view somewhere else?

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 01 . 13 --

@Darla: The full documentary is here on Vimeo.  Yay!

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-- Carmen -- 2014 . 02 . 05 --

I am so pleased to have discovered you through the Soul Food class Gwenn. I keep popping back to read your archives and find myself taking notes or watching this or researching that. I’ve learnt so much more than ‘just’ your class (and that was wonderful enough!) Thank you!

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 02 . 09 --

@Carmen: Thank you so much!  Your comment has made my day!

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-- Erick -- 2015 . 02 . 19 --

David Hockney doesn’t run his website… he may not even have been on it.

These things are outsourced to webdesigners.

It is his official website, but he doesn’t touch it.

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 02 . 19 --

@Erick: Okay. Does that mean to you that his website is alright the way it is? It doesn’t for me, but if it does for you that’s cool.

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-- Erick -- 2015 . 02 . 20 --

No, but it should possibly change the tone of the article, which seems to blame Hockney directly, as if he wanted it this way.

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 02 . 20 --

@Erick: If he’s not in control of his own site—or even aware of it—I guess it just makes me even more sad about him as an artist. I understand that it excuses things for you, and that’s cool. It doesn’t for me.

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-- Erick -- 2015 . 02 . 20 --

Actually it says nothing about him as an artist (unless you have relevant reason). It says that he’s an old man who has a staff that takes care of the publicity and press side of his career. He spends his time making art, which is his job. The rest take care of the micromanaging.

You might want to inform yourself about the character of a person before making assumptions. Going off a website design is superficial thinking at best.

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-- Erick -- 2015 . 02 . 20 --

I forgot to add in my last post that not only does it say nothing about Hockney as an artist, but it also says nothing about him as a person.

You’re rage at various copyright issues is legitimate. As for Hockney however… it may not be something he’s even been informed about, or come into conflict with on a personal level. Perhaps he had someone show him his website once completed. Saying something is copyrighted and may not be reproduced is almost a colloquialism at this point and isn’t something most people think about. It doesn’t make them any less as a person. Let’s not read too much into this.

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-- Erick -- 2015 . 02 . 20 --


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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 02 . 20 --

@Erick: Hockney is allowing his name to be used to bully others and misrepresent the law. Whether he’s doing that on purpose or not isn’t as important to me as the fact that he’s doing it. I think you’re right that Hockney may just old and not interested in the Web, but, in this case, the offense is big enough that I think he should know he’s allowing others to make him look like a jerk. My article is, among other things, an attempt at communicating that to him.

I’ve told you twice now that I’m okay with having a differing opinion from yours, and two times now you’ve told me that my opinion is wrong. Why do you care so much about Hockney’s reputation? What is it about my article that really bothers you?

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-- Erick -- 2015 . 02 . 20 --

I don’t care a whole lot about Hockney’s reputation, which is in any case is already established. I just find your post to be a bit of a hit piece full of unsubstantiated accusations that if thought through a bit, aren’t conclusive. You seem very worked up in your article, so perhaps that’s the reason for the biting tone… emotion can trump reason.

just a few examples:
“I thought maybe something had happened to Hockney to make him be this way and if only someone would talk with him about it he’d be more reasonable.  And then I didn’t care and didn’t think any excuse was good enough. “

>Implying that there’s something ‘gone wrong’ with Hockney psychologically… that he used to be a certain way but now isn’t. You’ve already decided what type of person he is and nothing will change your mind. Implying he personally made this copyright claim on his site.

” He is also throwing the authority of his fame and his money[underlined] behind the lie.”

>Again stating completely unsubstantiated motivations. You have nothing to suggest this is the case. It’s an illogical argument: He’s rich and famous, therefore that must be the root of one of the problems with his website.

“...and the denial that this limitation exists is obviously part of Hockney’s own process of grief.”

>Implying that you know Hockney is aware of his site or had any hand in making it.

later in a response to my post you say that you can judge him as an artist based on what you’ve seen in his website design. There’s no necessary correlation… but follows the slanderous tone of the original post.

This kind of atmosphere begins and ends your post. I have no stake in this game… I was just surprised to read this article, which seemed to have an agenda and a strong confirmation bias tagging along for the ride.

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 02 . 20 --

@Erick: I figured it out. You care because your art is influenced by his—I looked you up based on your email address.

My post is about grief and how it relates to activism, so its tone is obviously emotional. I think Hockney and his team of copyright bullies can handle my critique, but I’m sorry I offended you.

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-- Erick -- 2015 . 02 . 20 --

Again - you… seem to have a habit of drawing conclusions based on little evidence. I enjoy Hockney’s art, and his ideas (as opposed to his art) have had some influence on me. For that matter, I disagree with Hockney on many issues and dislike as much of his art as I like. If it made sense would defend any artist from your claims, however. But as you said in your blog post… you’ve already made up your mind.

I’m not offended (and don’t be sorry if you did) at all… open conversation is an important thing.

I’m sure they can handle your critique, and for the record I think Hockney’s site fails on multiple levels… the front page is only the beginning (I actually agree with you on the copyright concern btw).

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