Jon Ippolito on Sat, 20 Apr 2002 16:41:55 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Re: why art should be free

A few responses to the commentary on "Why Art Should Be Free":

Regarding the Guggenheim's vested interest in moving art out of a market economy: yeah, right. I thought it would be obvious I was writing as an artist rather than as a museum functionary. Anyone familiar with the economics of museums knows that the overwhelming majority of museums (Guggenheim included) have a vested interest in the current market-based system. Most directors and curators thrive on the exclusive social dynamics of a market-based world, where reputations are established in toney auction houses and invitation-only gallery previews. When a museum board reviews potential accessions for ratification, they look for a dollar figure in the right-hand column to justify the acquisition. Yet very few museums--including big guns like the Guggenheim, Met, etc.--pay market values for the works they acquire. The current system allows museums to exploit the gifts of artists--and I think they should be giving more back. 

I'm interested in Joseph McElroy's idea of art as service, since it represents the possibility of propertyless payments for artists. But I'm concerned about exacty what end art is going to "serve." I don't care whether something's shown at MoMA or sold at Sotheby's, if it serves primarily as entertainment or marketing it's not art in my book. The trick would be to get corporations et al. to pay for works whose value as an early warning system for the unconscious is not eclipsed by some other form of service.

>>Ippolito wrote
>>Artist Ilya Kabakov claims that our society needs artists not to create more information or imagery--we've got enough of that already--but to recombine and envision the culture we already have. 

>McElroy wrote
>And envison the culture we should have. 

Good point.

>McElroy wrote
>However, there is a huge, untapped market of potential art buyers who might be persuaded to purchase a different type art. John Klima's Flock of birds (I don't know what he calls it) bought by a Financial institution, is I think, a perfect example of an artwork that explicitlty provides a service, displaying currency fluctations as symbolic flocks of birds. This type art has a huge corporate market that is untapped. And guess, what, artists don't need gallaries or museums to sell it to corporations. 

To forego a reliance on gallerists in favor of a reliance on corporations seems to me to go from the frying pan into the fire. Gallerists at least claim to be in it for the "art," while corporations are beholden to their stockholders to maximize profits. There may be a small set of artworks that serve to help corporations maximize profit while at the same time asking the challenging questions art must ask to serve society; I'm glad John Klima got support this way. But I doubt it's scalable to all of art.

The closest description I can think of to your vision is Bruce Sterling's novel _Holy Fire_, which depicts a world in which *artifice* has replaced *art* as the primary mode of perceptual and technological creativity. It's not exactly a dystopia, but it's not a future I'd want to live in either.

>McElroy wrote
>Unfortunately, capital will be needed to create and grow network based art beyond what the limited resources of an individual can do. We cannot stay as we are, for if we stop growing, we start dying. The Internet producers must start building the economic models before the marketers, so that control is properly maintained. Denying the inevitable plays into the hands of the marketers. 

I'm not sure whether you're talking about organizing artists to empower themselves as a class or getting individual artists more expensive tools and esoteric training. I believe the former has value if approached intelligently. I'm less convinced about the importance of the latter.

One of the reasons network culture spreads so quickly is that advances don't come exclusively from Big Science or Big Industry. Individual artists and programmers can make a difference just by finding the right cultural need and fulfilling it by Doing It Yourself. In the right hands, homespun HTML can be just as powerful as elaborate VRML environments. And thanks to View Source, online artists do not need residencies in research universities or high-tech firms to acquire the necessary skills. (If the code is transparent, of course--another requirement of open licenses.)

To be sure, the requirement that online artworks squeeze through the 14.4 kbs modems of dairy farmers and den mothers forces online artists to forego the sensory immersion of IMAX or the processing power of Silicon Graphics. However, constraints on bandwidth and processor speed can actually work to the advantage of Internet artists, encouraging them to strive for distributed content rather than linear narrative and to seek conceptual elegance rather than theatrical overkill. Making successful art for the Internet is not just a matter of learning the right tools, but also of learning the right attitude.

>McElroy wrote
>Artists should form corporations that are seperate entities. The artist creates works that the corporations pays a service fee for. The corporation then can sell to collectors, gallaries, whatever. It bears all the tax risks, etc. I bet it even gets the tax breaks....Why not a for-profit corporation established before death?

An interesting model--I don't know enough about tax law for corporations to know whether it would work. My research does indicate that it's prohibitively expensive for an artist to establish a *foundation* for the same end.

>>Ippolito wrote
>> I'm sure my father thought of his artistic legacy as a financial safety net for his children, but it has become a road straight to bankruptcy.

>McElroy wrote
> Can't you donate them for the full market value?

Not until after heirs have paid estate taxes. Then they can write them off on future income tax returns. Problem is, the only way to avoid massive estate taxes is to attempt to devalue the work in the eyes of the IRS; to do so, however, locks you into low deductibles for future returns and/or high capital gains taxes if you sell the works at a higher value. It's damned if you do and damned if you don't.

>McElroy wrote
>First thing Disney will do is make sure it is ok for commercial entities to appropriate works from the gift economy, why because they will take all their real old stuff, about to expire in a year or two, and throw it into the gift economy. Just what artists want, big conglomorates stealing from them at will. 

An open-licensed work isn't public domain--you can write them explicitly to prevent such misbehavior. As Jim Carrico pointed out in a recent Nettime response, open licenses can restrict certain types of commercial use and enable others. Check out the Red, Yellow, and Green licenses at

>McElroy wrote
> Yes, but you can't crash a wedding there, or interupt a volleyball game, or stop a concert, or physically move someone from the bench, or a myriad of other ways people temporarily claim and are authorized to claim territory. Open License for expression removes all legal power from the artist and is of no benefit to society. Open License of knowledge has benefit to society. 

Your distinction is interesting, but I'm not sure where you'd draw the line. Are you claiming a JavaScript function is knowledge and a JavaScript-built GUI is expression, even though they're both written in the same language?

>>Ippolito wrote
>>The Internet could serve as such a sanctuary17 for digital creativity, if our legal system were to treat any snippet of culture that found its way online as communal heritage. The effect of this rule would be that any form of streamable18 creativity, be it a text file, JPEG, or MP3, is automatically copylefted. Streamable versions of fixed formats--such as the MP3 of a live concert or Quicktime bootleg of a movie playing in theaters--would be similarly protected, whether they were streamed by the fixed-format's rights holder or by an unauthorized fan.

>McElroy wrote
> Hmmm. What about password and security protected systems hacked into? What about private FTP sites discovered by criminals and opened up? This would mean that I would pretty much have to deliver by hand any snippet I wanted to keep from being public domain. In fact, the minute the snippet left the door, I am pretty sure it would enter the public domain. The only entities capable of the finances required to prevent their snippets from entering the sanctuary would be large institutions.

You're right to be concerned about this, but read the next-to-last paragraph of my essay. Unlike Freenet, Tangler, and a number of other censorship-resistant publishing networks that have been proposed, the digital sanctuary could be subject to laws governing privacy and dangerous speech. It just wouldn't be subject to intellectual property restrictions.

>McElroy wrote
> Gifts dont' feed the babies.

If only that were true. Bringing up babies in our culture is a big-time gift economy (leaving aside the countless products, magazines, and "services" that wade into the stream of gifts). Our culture doesn't give us squat for what is arguably the most important job in the world. Read Ann Crittendon's _The Price of Motherhood_

and you'll find out that college-educated women pay a million-dollar "mommy tax" when they have a child; family law deprives mothers of financial equality in marriage; and stay-at-home parents and their work are left out of the GDP, the labor force, and the social safety net.

If anyone knows of an "open-license" for children, I could sure use one!


"Art is either worthless or priceless." --Gertrude Stein

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