Tuesday, October 17, 2006
A Sense Of Entitlement
"From now on, I want a royalty on the resales and I'm going to get it." - Robert Rauschenberg, 1973A valued collector emailed me recently to ask if I had an opinion about the notion of droit de suite – the artist's right to royalties on the resale of their works. I had the impression that this collector, an intelligent, sensitive man, was in favour of it because, on the face of it, it contributes further to the support of the artist.I disagree. Droit de suite negates the significance of the collector in an artist's success. Every person who buys a work of art is supporting an artist at whatever point that artist happens to be in their career. Even at Rauschenberg's extraordinary level of fame and earnings, collectors who buy his new work and bid for his old works at auction sustain (and, these days, increase) the value of both past and future works. Even an artist like Rauschenberg derives enough significant benefit from this not to deserve a royalty in the same way as a musician or an author does from works that must necessarily be distributed in volume to earn any sort of return for them. In 1996, I sold my first large painting for about $300. It would fetch nearly $30,000 now. When the value of my works grew, I wanted this collector to make as much money as possible from an eventual sale. Over the past ten years, the work has been through a series of owners, but I still feel that each believed in me and was invested in my future. The original price of $300 bought my food, rent, and several large tins of paint. The person who bought it next paid twelve times more. I didn't receive another cent. However, because of that re-sale, I could be confident that whatever I painted next would be sold for a lot more than $300. Subsequent buyers not only invested in the long-term value of my work, they encouraged an expectation that I might be able to create and sell more works in the future.For every artist that makes it – and making it means being able to make art full-time and not having to worry unduly about where the next meal might be coming from, let alone rake in the millions that Rauschenberg and many of his peers do – there are thousands who don't. Everyone who supports an artist by buying their work, especially in the early, 'risky' stages of a career, deserves all of whatever eventual profit there might (or might not) be. It's unreasonable for artists to think they are owed anything more.