April 10. 2007

The reality is this: Artists, in order to survive and thrive, must have their work highlighted through reviews, publicity, and word-of-mouth. 

Consider what would happen if everyone admired the Mona Lisa but no one knew it was Leonardo DaVinci who created it. Maybe he would have been okay with that. He had enough commissions to keep him busy, generally happy, and, anyway, he had that helicopter idea he wanted to pursue. 

But what if the Mona Lisa was getting lots of publicity? And his name was never mentioned as being the artist? Well, good for Mona. She deserved the attention. After all, it is HER face (some people say it is really a transgender self-portrait of DaVinci – you be the judge) in the painting. And the patrons who commissioned the artwork? Well, good for them, too. They supported the arts and are making sure their investment is seeing the light of day. Of course, good ol’ Leo was lucky enough to have a major hit book and movie made about him centuries later, ensuring that even the most art history-deprived numnut would learn of his special artistic talents.

But at what point does patronage begin to take over credit for the artwork? I don’t mean as in a case of Art Direction, such as when an Art Director tells a junior artist what to do, what colors to use, and where and how to compose the artwork. I mean to ask: Where is the line when the patron begins to purposefully obscure the artist’s contribution to having created the artwork that is receiving all of the publicity on their behalf?

Now, what if this involves more than publicity. Maybe even very important research and subject matter, things that can truly make a difference in the world? Far be it for me to claim that I’ve suffered in any way in comparison to the hard-fought victories overcoming the traumas and hardships of homelessness or cancer or spousal abuse. Maybe my lack of similar suffering is the reason why I have felt an almost morally aching guilt for even feeling the way I do. And I think that is how many artists are made to feel. I think you know what I mean. It is that feeling that you should be so happy to be making a contribution to improving the sufferings of the world through your art that any worries about getting credit for that contribution would be considered shallow and self-serving. We want to believe we can rise above these petty feelings for they are far from the altruistic nature we often try to nurture in ourselves…

So why do I feel so bitter inside? It comes down to this: if my artwork is getting credit for its success in the task it was intended, then so should I get credit for creating it. Altruism aside, if a researcher’s work is being noted for its success, the researcher’s name is always attached to it. A scientist works hard to tightly control how their name is connected to their work, going so far as to fight for whose name is on top of a publication. 

And if the artwork was intended to provide a major contribution to the public demonstration of how art CAN impact on social action and public opinion, don’t you think it would be nice to mention the artist? Especially when articles being published describe the artwork as follows?

“From a distance, the panels shimmered with flowing colors, photos and drawings layered into an aesthetic backdrop. Up close, specific images within the panels emerge. Photos of crumbling buildings, of garbage filled yards, of empty churches take shape within the swirl of colors. You enter the mind and soul of homelessness in Detroit where hope vanishes and society is a closed door.”*

I know it must sound petty and whining. But doesn’t this paragraph sound like it should be followed by “The artwork was created by [artist’s name here]…”? From then on, the writer could go on and describe the real subject such as how to solve the world’s problems, ad infinitum. As an artist, I don’t need anything more than this… just a little word that says “yes, we recognize this artwork as having been your creative vision.” Thanks for the encouragement. At least maybe, then, I could show my mother what it is I’ve been doing since I went off into the world…

~ mara jevera fulmer

*I’ll let you, the reader, do your own Google to find the author of the article quoted above… turnabout is fair play. – mjf


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