21 July 2014

Spilt tea

I have a client who, instead of sending out an Christmas card to her friends and associates, used to send out an annual card celebrating the Boston Tea Party. It was her way to be distinctive and to avoid offending people who didn't celebrate the religious holiday. She had me design and illustrate several years' worth. Sadly, in 2009 she had to abandon the tradition, as both the name and iconography had been co-opted by the emerging right-wing political movement.

A few years ago I found a Tea Party website that was using many of my illustrations unpaid and uncredited. The unpaid part didn't bug me as much as the fact that I am about as politically far from the Tea Party as one can get. Even still, my reaction has been to shrug it off. You make things and they go out into the world and then other people do things with them. I wouldn't want it differently.

Perhaps I can afford to take this position because I have a day job and am no longer reliant upon my work-for-hire or because I will probably never produce anything popular enough that it would be to my advantage to actively enforce my Copyright. But also: My work is often derivative or transformative, and I have a great love for remix culture: mash-ups, parodies, works that are in conversation with existing works, and I don't think the fantasy of intellectual property ultimately serves artists or art very well. We hold fast to the Romantic ideal of the Artist's Vision, a vision that is profound and powerful but also in peril of being destroyed through the misuse or abuse of the artist's work. But that's only one way of viewing the creative process, and it's a way founded ultimately on ownership of ideas. An alternative is to see cultural production as an ongoing conversation or game spanning media, genres, and themes. We join in as we are able and make use of what's at hand.