Artists Should Keep Records

54474287_tnBy Christo­pher M James

Anyone’s life end­ing stage will prob­a­bly become chaot­ic. Ill­ness con­sumes one’s ideas. Strength wanes, mem­o­ry fades the abil­i­ty to do the dai­ly activ­i­ties like work­ing or shop­ping for food declines. Upon retire­ment, the busi­ness will go on. Peo­ple will ded­i­cate the remain­ing of their lives to stress free exis­tence.

In 1996, Nam June Paik (1932–2006) a mul­ti­me­dia sculp­tor suf­fered a stroke that short­ened his abil­i­ty to cre­ate new instal­la­tions; how­ev­er, his career was far from over. His work were being planned to be dis­played, lat­est pieces were still being made-up, and the exist­ing works are for sale at gal­leries. Besides, a series of sculp­ture sup­pos­ed­ly by Paik, denied by the artist him­self, were put up for sale.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it was Paik who was charged with two law­suits, which his lawyers chose to resolve since he is not think­ing men­tal­ly com­pe­tent to give evi­dence at tri­al. Paik’s nephew and estate execu­tor, Ken Haku­ta said. “You can see this as peo­ple tak­ing advan­tage of a senile artist. He was sick.”

The court cas­es were even­tu­al­ly resolved. Had Paik upheld a doc­u­men­tary record for all his work, this could not have hap­pened. Good record keep­ing, unluck­i­ly, is not one of the traits of a high­ly suc­cess­ful artist.

Reduce brain func­tion, though, may prove dis­as­trous for those artist whose busi­ness is run total­ly out of his or her mind. As Dr. said “Just get­ting old is hard.” The direc­tor of the Woburn, John Zeiselof of Mass­a­chu­setts-based orga­ni­za­tion Artists for Alzheimer’s stat­ed, “Bills don’t get paid; things don’t get put away. Most cre­ative types have things lying around any­way and, when they devel­op demen­tia, it becomes much hard­er to orga­nize.”

For all these, prob­lems that may occur are:

The art­works that have been loaned to a gallery, muse­um or col­lec­tor are for­got­ten. The ben­e­fi­cia­ry may inter­pret it as present or gifts, some­times sell­ing the works.

Art­works that are con­signed to a gallery are for­got­ten. Gal­leries, also, some­times for­get to pay the artists.

Pho­tos that are only cer­ti­fied for com­mer­cial use are also for­got­ten. A lawyer with an arts prac­tice in New York City, Elliot Hoff­man said “Post­mortem roy­al­ties, with few excep­tions, tend to taper off, but some­times roy­al­ty pay­ers for­get to pay the artist or the artist’s estate or heirs. Some­times, they just stop pay­ing and wait to see if any­one com­plains.”

Con­stituents involved in cre­at­ing sev­er­al edi­tion, like mock-ups, proofs, maque­ts, molds or draw­ings, are failed to notice by the artist. How­ev­er, it is still used or sold by the pub­lish­er, foundry, or fab­ri­ca­tor.

Art­works that are not doc­u­ment­ed or com­piled with pho­tographs or writ­ten data (title, size, year, medi­um), which can cause dif­fi­cul­ty of attri­bu­tion. An artist is usu­al­ly con­sid­ered to be the best judge of his own work (even though there are cas­es where some have been dis­hon­est, deny­ing ear­ly pieces they now dis­like or, in the case of Gior­gio di Chiri­co, inten­tion­al­ly mis­dat­ing works) but, when the artist suf­fers loss of mem­o­ry (like the case of Nam June Paik) or passed away, the prob­lem of attri­bu­tion is exag­ger­at­ed or mag­ni­fied. To deter­mine who cre­at­ed the work, and when was the work cre­at­ed has been more drawn-out in an expen­sive process.

Hoff­man said, “Artists, by def­i­n­i­tion, are not busi­ness-mind­ed”. This is nei­ther true nor a descrip­tion only, but there have been many instances of artists who do not mind to keep good records of their art­works, loans, licens­es and con­sign­ments, lead­ing to prob­lems and law­suits dur­ing an artist’s life­time and beyond.

There might be less need for law­suits and authen­ti­ca­tion com­mit­tees if an artist kept bet­ter records on their works and careers. Con­cern­ing that goal, the Joan Mitchell Foun­da­tion (155 Avenue of the Amer­i­c­as, New York, NY 10013, 212–524-0100, ) has estab­lished a grant pro­gram allow­ing the artists to doc­u­ment their work. By hir­ing an archivist and pay­ing for a com­put­er (if need­ed) and the cre­ation of an image and text data­base rather than giv­ing mon­ey to an artist direct­ly, the foun­da­tion will under­write this process. As the exec­u­tive direc­tor, Car­olyn Somers said, “If you just give artists mon­ey, they might not spend it on archives, while they are alive, artists can do their own cat­a­logue raison­né.”

Christo­pher James — fine art stu­dent who loves to write about art. Christo­pher is cur­rent­ly study­ing at the Draw­ing Acad­e­my, dis­cov­er­ing tra­di­tion­al draw­ing tech­niques and has already com­plet­ed the Web Art Acad­e­my “Hot to Oil Paint” online course

Author: Rhonda 2.0

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