Seeking Perspective from Eva Lake

In working as an artist, there should be reasonable boundaries to creativity! I can read back in art history and look times past when the freedom of expression was not so free. Religious depiction was the norm. Durer lived in this time, when the Age of Faith ended and the Age of Reason began. What a difference in art and freedom, from then till now!
I relate this to collage and issues we all face in doing our art. What freedom do we have in our creativity? I decided to get perspective from someone who also uses appropriataed images in their work. I thought of Eva Lake. Eva also uses a variety of images in her work, as I noticed in her online diary. She has met a lot of people, her blog is very interesting, maybe she has some insight.
The following is our email conversation.

"Hi Eva Lake,

I am Julie Sadler, a collagist in upstate NY. I have read your blog
off and on and explored your work several times and enjoy your
perspective. I also respect the fact that you have "been around this
block" longer than I have, and your experience and opinion is
therefore highly valued!

I am in quite a quandry these days over something involving collage
and art. I was wondering if you had just a moment for me to help me
understand exactly where i do stand!

To make this email easier to read, let me make the story short and
My method of collage involves culling pieces from anywhere and
everywhere in order to do a work. I cut up magazines, books, and
virtually anything I can get my hands on and use it in my work. (You
can get a feel for what I do on my website, or on flickr...if this
helps). I have been working very hard on a huge project...a 150 page
collage story. It has collaged words, and every single page is a
collage spread. There are literally thousands of snips in this book
and it took a 4 year span to complete! My intention was to complete
this, and then send copies of it to a few publishers and see if I could get it published.

And then the whole thing began to unravel. As I have a blog, collageclearinghouse, where I post all kinds of collage related stuff. In the course of the blog, a conversation occurred and copyright was the subject.
BIG Sigh.
I have always felt that I was transforming anything I use into
something new--a new work, and therefore I was clear from issues of
copyright. How could it be illegal to cut out a page from a magazine
I bought, and paste it on a paper? But as the whole subject unfolds,
I find myself questioning the very validity of my work, and in fact
any collage work. I notice that you use images in your work. Are they
all your original images? Do you also cut and paste from various
sources?? I understand that I of course can cut and paste till the
cows come home, as long as I keep these pieces to myself. But, in
this particular case I am talking about a book, getting it published,
and not keeping it secret.

I don't know exactly what I am looking for here! I am so sorry....I
guess I am seeking to find out how you are coping with this issue in
your work? Maybe I am mistaken and you use entirely original imagery,
and therefore, I have some learning to do!! I recognize you are no
lawyer, but there must be some opinions you can share...

In the meantime, thank you for the time you spend on your blog! I
enjoy reading about different art scenarios and it is thankless work
sometimes writing a blog!

I appreciate your time,

Julie S."

And her reply:

Hi Julie,

Thanks so much for reading and enjoying my writing.

As the questions involved, I am not really an expert.. if you talk to a lawyer, she/he will say there are copyright problems. And yet. And yet artists steal all of the time. Even David Bowie. Warhol, absolutely. So there is no straight answer.

I think Warhol won his lawsuit. If you had legal problems, a clever lawyer could site many instances in art which are on your side. I mean, let us look at the history of art here. Let us start with Picasso. Look at his collages and you will see images he did not make, but rather, well, stole. This is the road your lawyer shall go down, if she/he must....

First of all, do you profit from someone else's images? Rather doubtful. That is what they would really go after, your profits. I've never made a dime off collage; even when I sell one, I have put so much more into it.

Perhaps you read the story I posted once on an anonymous call I receieved. A collage of mine was printed in a magazine - it ripped off Warhol's Flowers

The caller was all pissed that I ripped off Warhol! What nerve I had etc.
Well, it was that exact image that Warhol was sued for! He ripped off those flowers from someone else. - Of all artists to attacked on the originality score. The case must be made that you have transformed something adequately enough. this was the case that Andy won time and time again.

Later on I found out that many artists were rejected from this magazine and the caller was probably one.

What about Sherrie Levine shooting all those Walker Evans photographs? What about Mike Bidlo painting Jackson Pollocks? As you can see, this issue is not just about collage. So much made in the past 20 years is singing about Andy in one way or another, artists glory in ripping off whatever they can.

You know, I had an art lawyer on Artstar Radio once. He told me I was crossing all these lines in my work. BUT. Guess who he defended? Negativeland, when they were sued by U2 for using U2's music in one of their pieces. So what goes around come around and in the end, he defended an artists right to splice and dice.

I think you have no problem and should just go for it. If you get sued, you will become a famous artist! Add my two cents to your blog if you like.


Thank you Eva for responding to me! I really enjoy hearing other peoples' perspective. The more it is talked about, the closer we can all come to understanding each other.
I have more to say on this whole copyright thing, but that's for another post!


Anonymous said...

A question which probably needs to be answered here is: just how long does copyright last? I recall that there is a time limit.

I personally was never interested in finding something online by a living artist and using it. I like things old, iconographic, images which are somehow almost collectively owned by us all. I am not sure that keeps you out of trouble though....

Even so, for one project I used images out of the paper, scanned beyond recognition, and then when someone found out that they were from 9/11, the copyright was the least of their concerns!.... How could I use those images, they asked. Like it was fine to watch it on TV but verboten when it comes to art making. They had their own idea of ownership over events and collective history, basically.

Found materials (or some will say stolen), whether they are used for painting, collage, sound, film - are always causing controversy.

The other question is where does fair use begin or end. What a pity if John Heartfield could not have made his very important collages because of copyright issues over Hitler's image. He is my favorite photomontage artist, completely reliant on twisting what everyone was looking at, imagery made by someone else.

Having said all this, people are ripping off my images all the time, using them as wallpaper for their Myspace pages, etc. If I am given credit (something more and more important the older I get!), I do not mind. But some people don't seem to understand why I would want that....


Mick said...

For a quick and easy reference for length of copyright, nolo.org does a succinct job of it. In the long term, the chilling effect that this issue has on creating transformative, new works is the real crime. As I said previously - and as Eva has pointed out - the issue isn't on firm ground for any of the parties involved. It's always going to be a jurisdictional argument where any of us who repurpose material for fresh, new work is likely to face a "you win some and you lose some" serve and volley.

___A place to find all kinds of information about collage.