Who’s an Artist?


“I never said I was a genius.”  Orson Welles  (from Brainyquote)

Is there a set of characteristics that must be possessed in order to be worthy of being called an artist?  Many people are hesitant to call themselves artists even though they are actively engaged in creating some form of art.  When asked, a person might say, “I’m a painter,” but not say, “I am an artist.”  Or there are writers who claim to be writers but not artists.  And how about the photographers?  When was the last time one of them said, “I am an artist?”  It may all be tied into the actual definition of the word, “artist.”

New research suggests a large number of people engaged in artistic endeavors as a career do not call themselves artists.  Tom Jacobs, writing for the Pacific Standard, examines the subject.  Jacobs outlines recent research done by Columbia and Rutgers University researchers revealing how many people doing artistic work don’t associate themselves with being an artist.  Jacobs concludes with a quote from the movie Bullets Over Broadway, in a statement from the actor, confusing being an artist with being a genius.  Is it possible this confusion is at home in the minds of people in general?

The confusion may originate in the actual dictionary definition of an artist.  Dictionary.com defines an artist as: (a) a person who produces works in any of the arts that are subject to aesthetic criteria and (b) as a person of exceptional skill.  Its no wonder people are confused. It could be that many artists don’t wish to appear to be claiming to be a genius.  The title of “artist” may be reserved for when the nebulous pinnacle is reached, whenever that may be.  Or to many, being called an “artist” may not be important, at all.

Perhaps the geniuses can sort this one out.  The rest are too busy making art

The Granddaughter’s Residual–UPDATE

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“Do your job and demand your compensation—but in that order.”  Cary Grant (from Brainyquote)

In two of my previous posts, the lack of resale compensation for visual artists, illustrators, photographers and sculptors was discussed.  The United States Copyright Office has now partially reversed the previous ruling on resale royalties for visual artists.  Visual artists have not had the same rights to royalties as composers, playwrights and screenwriters.  There is a bill coming up in congress and the senate to grant full residual rights but this move by the Copyright Office signals a hopeful direction.

Judith Dobrzynski has covered the issue for the Arts Journal blogs and has a full report on what these changes mean.  She received a report from the office of Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY-10) on his upcoming bill.  Please go to her post for the full story here.  There are also links in her article for the U.S. Copyright Office report on the reversal.

“Droit de Suite” is the title of these laws in Europe that came about from the destitute state of the granddaughter of artist Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875).  Millet sold his painting, The Angelus for 1000 francs in 1865.  14 years after his death the painting was sold for between 553,000 francs and 800,000 francs depending on the report, while his family lived in abject poverty.  His granddaughter was found selling flowers on the streets of Paris to survive.  The laws only granted a very small amount to the artist and/or his family negating the complaints from art dealers about loss of compensation for the dealers and galleries.

The United Kingdom has very recently enacted a “Droit de Suite” law but the U.S. so far has not.  This hopeful sign from the U.S. Copyright Office may signal an approaching change in this process for artists in the U.S.  One can hope.  And one can also contact his/her representative and senator to suggest they support “Droit de Suite” in the U.S.  Perhaps visual artists dying in penury will soon be a thing of the past.  No more granddaughters selling flowers on the street for survival.

Previous posts by me on “Droit de Suite” laws:

Visual Residual

The Case of the Destitute Granddaughter

Other blog posts on the subject:

BCA Galleries

Adam Lilith’s Art House