In a follow up from last week’s blog post about copyright infringement and how to avoid it, I am looking at the other side of the coin and investigating how artists can protect their work from being stolen online. However, I must offer the caveat shared by Drew Kimble, author of the article, “Stop Stealing My Sh*t,” that there is no foolproof guarantee that any of these measures can protect an artist’s work. Indeed, according to Kimble, if a thief has the technological know-how, they can steal an artist’s work. However, in the words of Kimble, there are strategies which can be used in an effort to deter thieves from unlawfully using an artist’s content.
One of these methods which artists can use to protect their artwork is called watermarking (Kimble, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images/ . This approach involves creating a mark in a photo editing program, such as PhotoShop, often incorporating your name and the year in which you created the art. (ibid) I first learned about this technique when I was taking a Business of Art Class, taught by local photographer and art business coach, Rebecca La Chance, of Thurmont, MD. Previously to taking this class, I had not thought about protecting my artwork very much, as I had viewed it more as a hobby than a business. However, since 2017, when I made the shift from hobby artist to art business entrepreneur, I have been thinking more about the issue of copyright, both with regard to avoiding copyright infringement, and also how to protect my artwork from being stolen. As I started to do research about copyright infringement, I was shocked about how much art online has been copied wholesale from celebrity photographs and is for sale as handmade art on websites such as Etsy. And there is no way to know with certainty that the artist who made this artwork actually asked the photographer for permission to use their source as a reference for their art.
It is one thing to copy another artist’s work in order to learn from it and to give credit to that artist, as I have done with my master copies. However, it’s quite another thing to steal another artist’s work and take the credit for it. I’d like to think that some artists are ignorant about this issue, and to give them the benefit of the doubt. I hope that is true, but I don’t know if that is true in all cases. Copyright infringement certainly wasn’t a topic that came up in my art classes at college. However, I think it should be addressed, since these college courses in graphic design, painting, illustration, and photography are supposed to prepare artists for the professional world after they graduate, as graphic designers, animators, photographers, professional illustrators, and artists, etc.
More to the point, I think artists who steal others artwork are robbing themselves of the opportunity to create their own work and grow as artists. Although it may take more effort to take your own photos, the hard work is well worth it, because you get an opportunity to learn about the principles of composition, light, etc., and these fundamentals are critical components of making art in any medium. These principles can help you make higher quality art in general, as composition and lighting are important aspects of making attractive artwork.
On the other hand, I admit that when I was a teenager, I used celebrity photographs to learn how to draw portraits from magazine covers. The truth is, I had no clue about copyright laws at the time. But, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t offer these drawings for sale or display at an art gallery or any of my commerce shops, such as Etsy and Red Bubble. I have also used the celebrity photos as a learning tool in my 100 faces in 100 days drawing challenge, but these drawings were not for sale, and I frequently gave credit to the photographer’s name in my Instagram posts. I feel now though, that I want to step it up a notch, and not even use copy written photos at all as a reference, but to search for public domain photos, or better yet, learn to take good photos of my own, so that the artwork I create can be more original.
Of course, the issue of artistic theft is not a new one, because, in the past, art was stolen by artists who made forgeries of other artists work such as the famous case of the so-called Vermeer paintings, (i.e. Amsterdam vs. Han Van Meegren (1947). Source: “The Essential Vermeer,” retrieved from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/misc/van meegren.html. So with all this being said, should artists stop making their art available to others through the World Wide Web or not? And if artists decide to post their art online, what are the options to protect their art from thieves? To make this decision, I think artists need to weigh the pros and cons of posting their artwork online to decide how to market their art. And they also need to look at the options available to them to safeguard their artwork online by researching different methods, such as watermarking, slice and dice, disable right click, and shrink wrapping, (Kimble, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images).
On the benefits side of posting artwork online, artists can gain a wider level of exposure for their artwork than ever before, on a worldwide level, (ibid) by using the world wide web to post their artwork on social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram. They can also sell their artwork online through online galleries such as Art Fire or Daily Paintworks. In the past, such opportunities did not exist and artists were completely dependent on currying the favor of art gallery owners in order to obtain a platform for their artwork. Now, any artist can get their artwork into the public eye without having to pay for application fees. If you have electricity, an internet connection, computer, and cell phone, you can post your artwork to a plethora of websites, for a minimal expense. Added to the social media channels I have already mentioned, are online art galleries which are subscription-based, such as Art Fire and Daily Paintworks, at www.dailypaintworks.com, created by artist Carol Marine. Many of these require only a small monthly subscription fee with an unlimited amount of posts for an artist’s artwork, which can be linked to commerce sites such as eBay and Etsy, so artists can control their sales completely. Best of all, there is often no jury panel involved to become a member of these online art galleries.
On the other hand, if artists opt out of posting their artwork online, they are much more limited in their ability to gain new followers or control their sales. It can also be more expensive to get your artwork in front of influential decision makers such as art gallery owners and art jury panel members. In this instance, you are limited to the gallery shows you are accepted into and more traditional art events such as art festivals and fairs, which often involve the traditional jury system to gain admittance. Moreover, it can be discouraging to artists (especially emerging artists), to receive one rejection letter after another, especially when they don’t know why their artwork is being rejected. To be successful with this approach, you need a thick skin, perseverance and a specific plan to find galleries who will be a good fit for your art. It can often be like trying to find a job, in that you are trying to make a match between the artwork you create and the artwork that a specific gallery already promotes. This process cannot be random to be successful.
Another option is for artists to choose to combine their art gallery shows with an online presence in social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. In this case, you can probably attract more fans and customer and the instant feedback you receive from your posts can be encouraging and help you to create more art. So, if you decide to go this route, you have several options to protect your artwork from unlawful use. These options include watermarking, slice and dice, shrink wrapping and disabling the right-click option (Kimble). The different strategies I mentioned are described in detail in Drew Kimble’s article, “Stop Stealing My Sh*t,” with an analysis of each method involved. A tutorial for watermarking is embedded in the above-mentioned article. If you are interested in learning more about these techniques you can click on the link, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images/.
Voices and Visions: A Narrative Series
Today I am challenging myself to finish writing my artist statement for my poetry illustration series, Voices, and Visions. After months of on and off work on this series, I am committing to working on the series at least 1x a week. Some of the activities that I engage in to get the ball rolling with this series are: to write critiques about work in progress, post paintings and sketches to Instagram on a weekly basis create tonal studies, and to create photo collages in Photoshop for subjects that require complicated themes.
This body of work, Voices, and Visions, is really stretching me, and it is unlike any other series I have worked on in the past. There have been several instances of artist’s block and resistance in general to finish the work. What is holding me back? Are life circumstances to blame for my lack of follow through with this series? Or are family crises taking up the bulk of my time and energy? Do I fear to make a mistake so much that it paralyzes me from picking up the pencil or brush? Or have I spent too much time watching British TV mystery series, such as Vera Stanhope or Inspector Morse? I’m not really sure; maybe all of these things have played a part in my inertia.
Writer’s Block: Getting started with an Artist Statement
In addition to avoiding completing this series, I have also avoided working on my artist statement for this series, which has not been helpful either. Unfortunately, I have not been reading or editing the artist statement which inspired me to create this series as I do the work. However, I realize that if I want to have a cohesive body of work with a strong message, I need to be sure that the work in progress is tracking with my original artist’s statement. Regrettably, I have made this mistake before, and as you might imagine the results of that experiment were not good. A few years back, well, more than a few, I applied for graduate school at a number of colleges for a master’s degree in art. Needless to say, I didn’t get any acceptance letters, and the artwork I created did not reflect the artist statement I had started writing because I did not adjust the statement to reflect the artwork as I was painting or vice versa. So with that in mind, I am trying to learn from past mistakes and catch this lack of synchronicity between my artist’s statement and the work in progress. I hope that writing about how to write an artist’s statement will get me out of this rut.
Why Should You Write an Artist’s Statement?
According to the Agora Gallery article, “How to Write an Artist Statement: Tips from the Art Experts”, an artist’s statement plays a crucial role in communicating your intentions about your artwork to others (“How to Write an Artist Statement: Tips from the Art Experts”, Agora Gallery, http://www.agoragallery.com, pg. 2) Sounds good right? But what if you don’t like to write? The author, and art business coach, Alyson Stanfield makes a good point in illustrating why an artist may not want to write an artist statement when she wrote: “My artwork speaks for itself.” (Alyson Stanfield, I’d Rather Be in the Studio, pg. 51.) But can it really? Can other people follow your art-making processes and really understand what you intend if you don’t give them a map to follow? To illustrate, imagine that you sent out a resume and cover letter that are very general for a specific job posting, rather than tailoring your skills to that job description.
Are you likely to get the job, or even an interview? I think the answer is, probably not, because an employer needs to see why they should consider you as a candidate specifically. In a similar manner, I think that writing an artist’s statement can also help an artist to stand out from the multiple numbers of artist entries and websites, and make their work more personal and meaningful to viewers. Most important, writing an artist statement can make a connection between you and your audience, when you are not there in person to speak for yourself. (Agora Gallery, pg. 2) But as an artist, I do empathize with those who don’t like to write and would rather express themselves visually. Despite years of writing research papers as a college student, I still don’t like to write. Hopefully, the highlights I am sharing from this article will help you to overcome any excuses or fears about writing an artist’s statement, so that people will stand up and take notice of your art. This is particularly important if you want to make the transition from being a hobby artist to a professional artist who exhibits art in galleries or other public spaces.
Who is Your Audience?
In addition, an artist statement is necessary for consideration in art competitions, art galleries, museums, etc. (Ibid, pg. 2). Occasionally, an artist’s statement may be displayed as an accompaniment to their artwork at a gallery show, art fair or on an artist’s website. (Ibid, pg. 2). One important thing to remember is to consider who your audience is as you write your artist statement. (Ibid, pg. 2) Some of the people you are communicating with could be “gallery visitors, students, or potential buyers”. (Ibid, pg. 2). To write an effective statement, an artist needs to use terms and words that are understandable to a range of people, from those who have an art background to others who may have little to no knowledge about art. (Ibid, pg.2)
How Would You Describe Your Art?
Another thing that you should include in your artist statement is an explanation of how you make your art. (Ibid, pg.2) For example, include information such as your favorite colors to paint with or your medium of choice, such as photography, sculpture, watercolor, etc. (Ibid, pg.2) What style of art do you practice? (Ibid, pg.2) Is your art abstract or realistic, or somewhere in between? (Ibid, pg.2) For instance, do you like to include texture in your brushwork by loading your brush with thick paint, or do you like to hide your brushwork and build up tone with thin glazes of paint? (Ibid, pg.2)
What Do You Paint, Draw, Sculpt or Photograph?
What imagery do you use to make your art? (Ibid, pg.3)Explain the content which you use in your artwork. (Ibid, pg.3) Does it relate to your process, or to the medium that you use to make art? (Ibid, pg.3) Do you use specific themes to illustrate a story, feeling, or memory, such as figures, landscapes, or symbols? (Ibid, pg.3) What influences inspire your art? (Ibid, pg.3) Is it political issues, memories of your childhood or your local surroundings, or formal elements of art, such as line, shape, color, value, etc?
Why Do You Make Art?
Finally, you want to include a section in your artist statement which gives an explanation of why you make artwork. (Ibid, pg.3) Tell viewers what drives or motivates you to create. (Alyson Stanfield, I’d Rather Be in the Studio, 2008, pg, 44) Be specific, don’t just say, because I have to do it. (ibid) Certain examples might include, I make art to process difficult childhood experiences, or I create artwork to bring attention to political issues I am passionate about. This article is just a brief overview to get you started with an artist statement and is by no means comprehensive. However, if you would like a more detailed resource to walk you through writing an artist’s statement, I recommend that you visit the link for the article: How to Write an Artist Statement: Tips from the Art Experts: https://www.agora-gallery.com/advice/blog/2016/07/23/how-to-write-artist-statement/. Another excellent resource I would recommend that you read to help you write an artist statement is Alyson Standfield’s book, I’d Rather be in the Studio, which is available on amazon.com or as a pdf download from her website: https://artbizcoach.com/. Chapter 4 describes a system about how to write an artist statement, with some helpful prompts to get you thinking about why you make art.