What does it mean for the estate of an artist to withdraw permission toprint any of the artist's images and text in a scholarly book? We'vebeen having a lot of conversations about open access and we need to addanother element to that conversation: the control of artists, writers,and their descendants on the publication of images. The case becomes particularly troubling when the estate of an artist denies permission to print images that are displayedin museums, sold in the art market, and available in amateur imagesubiquitously. Presumably the artist wanted the work shown. Presumably the descendants are profiting in some way from the art market's interest. Too often, descendants guard permissions far more zealously (for profit or prudery or whatever reason) than the artists themselves. To deny permission in a serious book about the artist is an impediment to the flow of knowledge even as the art continues to flow in and out of dealers' and museum hands.
The specific incident in question is Ad Reinhardt's estate withdrawing permission to print any images or texts by the author from a book that apparently was already in press. The author, Michael Corris, will be lecturing on this at April 10 at 5:00 at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke. Corris is a British artist associated with Art & Language and Professor of Fine Art, Art & Design Research Center, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK. His talk is entitled "The Difficult Freedom of Ad Reinhardt."
In literature, this issue of the tyranny of the descendants has been an issue for a long time. Ever wonder why you see that Faulkner story (not his best) "Rose for Emily" in anthology after anthology? Or Hemingway's "A Diamond as Big as the Ritz." This is because the Hemingway and Faulkner families control what can be reproduced with an iron fist. There are other examples, but those are two notorious ones. Of course, go to the internet and you can probably download any of these. Just as, when I went to Flickr, I was able to see dozens of photographers (of varying quality) of Ad Reinhardt's work by amateurs who had posted their snapshots.
"Information wants to be free." Well, it may want to be but we are in an era in turmoil over issues of access, fair use, copyright, and patent. Unfortunately, universities have sometimes contributed to this issue by patenting overzealously in the hopes that one of the inventions or gene sequences of something discovered in their lab will sell a billion and provide the university with an endowment indefinitely. That end desire, stability and security for an institution notoriously susceptible to the fluctuations in the economy, is not a bad thing. And the problem is you never know which thing invented in your lab will be the one to make the big bucks. So you have offices of research support which, in fact, guard these matters zealously.
In this case, I'm not sure the issue is profit or protection. Greed or censorship? Did the author say something critical in the book? One of my friends writes on Sylvia Plath who was married to Ted Hughes (later to become England's Poet Laureate) at the time of her suicide. The Hughes estate denies permission to publish Plath's work if an author says anything bad about Ted. I don't know the reasoning behind the decision in the Reinhardt case but urge anyone and everyone in the area to attend the lecture.
BLOGGER WANTED: I'll be out of town for this lecture and won't be able to attend. If you go or know anyone who is going, please encourage them to post a blog entry about it here to inform our readers about this issue in our continuing conversation on open access in all of its various forms and with all of its issues and problems. .
[Photo posted by Loreto Martin, with a Creative Commons License, on Flickr. Originally 1963, Ad Reinhardt at Galerie Iris Clert, Paris]