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, 1973
A 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.


Jules Faber said...

I must agree Hazel. When I sell the copyrights on my work, I am selling the right to reproduce, re-sell or re-whatever that work. I am setting it free unto its own destiny, not clutching at it, trying to milk every last cent I can from it. That's far too mercenary for me and not why I started making my 'living' (not 'money') as an artist.

I prefer to look to the future anyhow - looking back at something I made earlier in my career not only causes the wince factor at times, I'd feel guilty making anything further from it!
New stuff is worth this much today, but it wasn't worth that back then, and therefore shouldn't be today (to me). I charge more nowadays than I did back in the day and somebody's investment in me back then should be rewarded as they helped me get to the point where I can charge more today.
As I will five, ten and twenty years from now (but still not take a cent in 're-sales').

Good luck to them, says I.

Anonymous said...

I am inclined to agree here as well. What would be good to improve the artist income is the incentive for purchasing a painting by allowing it as a tax deduction. I don’t believe the government would miss out in these transactions as more sales would mean more small art businesses would then start up meaning more tax paid to them.


Claudia Olivos and Sergio OlivosM said...

Absolutely! I agree. This is the collector's privilege.
Although, I do not think copyright is something that is equal to this ...and I dont't sell copyrights to my pieces-when I sell an original piece is with full knowledge that it iwll increase in alue in the future!
I am always greatful to my collectors, and if they choose to 'move on' from a piece- it is wonderful to know they will be making a profit from having invested in my artwork (and hopefully, they will come back tomy studio for another! :)

Maria "Spunk" Brophy said...

Royalties on original work being re-sold is entirely different from royalties on reproductions of work.

Working artists should always keep their copyrights, so that they can reproduce prints should they desire.
Also, you want to make sure someone won't take your recognizable art and basterdize it.

Hazel's $300 painting that then sold for $300,000 could be reproduced as prints, by Hazel, in which case she can continue to benefit from that painting should she want to.

Hazel: I'm addicted to your blog! I love how you just throw it all out there! God help those hapless fools who do you wrong!

Anonymous said...

Rauscheberg went even further in his later years. With certain commissioned pieces he did not allow there sale. They had to revert to him or some sort of trust he had set up. Just way out of bounds to me.

We should have copyright to our paintings but once the sale is consumated, the future profits are for the person who acquires the original painting.

Also, what a logistical nightmare if everyone, with art or any goods had to track the sales of that "commodity" to ensure a payment on future sales for the history of that commodity.

In essence they would not be buying a painting they would be buying a license for that painting. That is just weird to me.

I think the only people who would like this would be control freak artists and lawyers.