Last Thursday I gave a painting away. It was a large one, one I worked on diligently during the last two weeks. I gave it to an organization in our town called the Scotiabank Dance Center. The painting was hung in the boardroom of a state-of-the-art building now used by dozens of dance troupes. I gave the painting because of the brotherhood and sisterhood between dance and the plastic arts. Every practice space in the new building is filled with people dancing their hearts out — ballet, theatrical, modern, flamenco — seven floors thumping with miracles. My painting is of some kids and their dance instructor waiting for a lesson to begin. I didn’t want the board-members to forget that it all starts with kids. Other than that the only thing in it for me is a tax receipt.
I’m mentioning this because the situation comes up a bit and has been queried by readers — not frequently, but often enough to be of concern. A work is given to a charitable organization — in perpetuity. It has a specific purpose and is the will of the artist. What if the organization ceases to be, or even just changes its mandate? A few years ago a similar charity evaporated without my knowledge — and so did three of my voluntarily donated paintings — mysteriously and perhaps innocently to a loyal secretary, or, (perish the thought) to some auction or flea-market. In any case, the works haven’t turned up.
This time I wrote on the back of the painting — not on a piece of paper, but directly, in permanent ink: “This painting was a gift to the Scotiabank Dance Center. In the event of a change of direction or the demise of this organization please contact the artist or his estate to receive advice on its placement. Thanks, Robert Genn, Sept 7, 2001.” Even something a lawyer might produce to this effect could very easily end up in the shredder. Art, as you may have noticed, is seldom shredded.
I don’t know whether anyone will honor my modest request, or indeed, if it will ever be necessary. But I just happen to think that artists have the right to control the placement of their personally donated works — in perpetuity.
PS: “You control your future, your destiny. What you think about comes about. By recording your dreams and goals, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands — your own.” (Mark Victor Hansen)
Esoterica: The correct wording according to my legal counsel would be a bit tougher: “This painting was a gift to the Scotiabank Dance Center. The gift does not include an assignment of the copyright, or the moral rights or the right of anyone, including the donee, to sell or dispose of this painting without the written consent of the artist or his estate.”
The following are selected e-mails that came in during the past three days. Thank you for writing.
Hard to see through the clouds of dust
Rachelle Krieger, New York, NY, USA
In this very tragic time, I am thinking about my role as an artist. What is my responsibility? Is my responsibility to myself or to society? What is it that I can do in this dark time? What can I do to help besides give blood? And then the answer comes to me: SEIZE BEAUTY. I can give spirit. Beauty still exists. It’s hard to see and feel through the clouds of dust. I’ll find the beauty and magnify it 100,000 times and hopefully it will radiate into your soul and give at least a glimmer of hope or light. That is my responsibility. I will start painting something beautiful when I get back from donating blood. Maybe then the dizziness and nausea will subside.
Only temporarily damaged
Sherry Purvis, Georgia, USA
I live in Georgia, in the United States. I cannot grasp the events of Sept. 11, 2001. I guess I have had every emotion possible since yesterday. That is to say every bad emotion. There is no joy in this and it will affect all of us for a lifetime. I am proud to be an American and by everything I believe and trust in, I am eternally grateful that I am alive. Somehow in this world we have to come together on a level that does not destroy us all. As artists we see not only the true beauty of our existence, but the ugly sides also. How can we convey to the world and all its people that the destruction of that beauty is sheer damnation of us all. I have been and continue to be dismayed, upset, angry, saddened and hurt that all of these people lost their lives senselessly and for what. My thoughts, my hopes, my dreams for the future have been impaired, but believe me they are only temporarily damaged. I am still an American that will do whatever it takes to help make this country, not only a safe place for my family and myself, but also for all those who want to come here to visit or live.
Lise Grondines, Montreal, Canada
I am so very proud of all those great virtues that you Americans stand for and that you defend and above all that you put into practice: Liberty, Justice, Freedom. I am so moved and touched by your courage through this most terrible tragedy, that I want to be forever part of you… From this day on, in memory of it all, and, as a symbol of my deepest gratitude and grief and because of all the admiration that fills my heart for you, and because of this great feeling of solidarity that animates my every thought of you, if somebody asks me who I am, where ever I might be in the world, I will never answer again: “I am a Canadian, or I am a Québécoise.” I will stand tall and proudly declare: “I AM A NORTH AMERICAN!”
Deborah Russell, Lutherville, Maryland, USA
The world cannot silenced
by devastation and lamentation,
but for now?
The world is silenced
by still and silent skies.
And too, this world is silenced
by great emptiness of disbelieving eyes.
Immersed herself in work
Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, Texas, USA
Like countless others when I heard the news of the attack, I felt weak. My stomach ached as I tried to imagine the horror and fear felt by those people on the planes as they came to understand something was going to happen. A terrible shock and overwhelming sadness descended upon me as I was forced to acknowledge that an Evil so great exists in our world. What kind of lives must a group of people have in order to decide that this was a good thing to do? Feeling completely helpless, I decided to immerse myself in my work. Yesterday morning, I started to sculpt my feelings in wax. I was shocked to see many of us going about our day — almost as we would have if we did not know of these atrocities. But I was doing it too, for lack of a better idea.
(RG note) A sad day for all who love freedom. My thanks to those who wrote. Sherry and Rachelle and Lise and Kelly and Deborah sum up much of our feelings and our new resolve. Kelly’s work in progress can be seen at http://home.flash.net/~lumina/911.htm Another image by artist M. Swaine can be seen by emailing Rick Lawrence at email@example.com A remarkable editorial by Canadian commentator Gordon Sinclair on the qualities of America came via Paul Gotts, Paul Greenberg, Shirley Erskine and others. Dee Te Aho, of Darwin, Australia, said to say simply to the American people: “Kia Kaha” (Be Strong)
The following letters came in the hour before the tragedy:
Artists have never had the right to control, only to create. It’s the artist’s burden; dancers do their greatest work and it is gone forever, out of the temporal and temporary, straight to the Eternal. You can’t tell the audience what to think. Those attempts are repulsive. All art is ephemeral. You may make a gesture or suggestion of control, but ultimately every work of art is a statement of faith; faith that you will not be raped. And we all hope you are right.
If you should be kind enough to donate a piece of art you should certainly have a say in what happens to it in the end.
Difficulties in giving
Mary Ann, Seattle, Washington, USA
In the US at this time, to donate a painting to a charity or what ever the artist is only allowed to deduct the cost of materials, not the market value. Not sure what Canada allows. They are trying to change the law to fair market value as the work is appraised for estate value. Your advice is well taken in marking the work. What artist wants their work to end up in the free bin in a garage sale? As it is now it is a crap-shoot! I personally will not donate a painting to a charity or anything else. Until they put artists on the same footing as an antique car or silver service, forget it! I would rather burn my work. That in itself is a problem concerning estates. What will become of my stuff? Does my college want it? Will my kids give it away to their friends? We all know the volume we produce. Do we leave it for posterity to the winds or destroy it to keep it “pure”? I would like to know as I am changing my will.
(RG note) In many jurisdictions they have a most ridiculous system for donating work to charities that seems to make the revenuers happy. Here in Canada we artists can write a check to the charity for the full value of our donation. The charity in turn gives the artist a check for the same amount. It’s a wash. You take the amount into income just as if you had earned it — and make sure you add the tax receipt they send you by the end of the year. Why, you might say, should you take it in and out — moving perhaps into a higher bracket in the meantime? The answer is that sometimes it’s useful, and sometimes a portion of it can be saved for another tax year.
Roger Cummiskey, Dublin, Eire
A woman stopped by and asked if I was the artist, Roger Cummiskey. I told her I was. She said that she had one of my paintings that she had bought at auction. Naturally, I asked her name, what painting and what auction. She then told me that she really loved the painting and had written to the charity (AIDS research) to tell them so and to pass on her great satisfaction with her purchase to the artist or the gallery or whomsoever had donated the painting. Incidentally, she had paid about the value of the painting. She was surprised when I told her that I had heard nothing from the charity. I then told her how sloppy the charity was and the fact that they had not been sufficiently gracious to even drop me a standard note. Even the local scout troop would have done that! She turned out to be an interior designer and wondered if I would be interested in showing her some more paintings that might be suitable for a 4,000 square foot apartment that she was responsible for decorating for a zillionaire in the city. I had a look at the apartment that was now almost finished except for the paintings on the wall. There was one original in the library and four limited edition prints in one of the loos. That was it. Twenty-four paintings and a couple of weeks later the lady had bought three for herself and the balance for the outside hall, the inside hall, the dining room and the sitting room. A simple millionaire had a peek-about with his wife and wanted a bit of the action so they commissioned two. A national interiors magazine will be doing a feature on the apartment later this month. I’m going on holiday.
Yaroslaw Rosputnyak, Moscow, Russia
The subject of the donation of art is familiar to us. When you give work and the man thinks, that it is simple picture, which will be again made, if he will wish it — this work is not of value to him, he does not know its price. Or, when the man does not need any work of art at all, for example, a car is more necessary to him — then it is useless to present him with art. In another case, when the establishment disappears or the management varies. It is then not known where it is evaporated the art work. In general, today, with that experience we think long, when we are thinking of something to donate. It is the advice for young artists. Also this is the same advice from Bible. It is very useful reminder by Mark Victor Hansen on that, the man owes itself to build a way, to create the style, itself to help to change the world for the better. It is our tool.
In addition to being a fine artist (plein air painter), I am also a professional illustrator. As such, I am very aware of the inherent rights of the artist (all creative forms included). The artist, unless otherwise stated, retains all rights to the work. Even in the case of sale or donation the artist at the very least retains reproduction rights. However, the best and only way to protect oneself and one’s rights is to do so in writing up front (signed by the recipient). Placing a tag on the back is a good idea and can’t hurt, a copyright mark on the signature is helpful but these things do not necessarily hold water in court. Most artists are not aware of their rights and should read up on copyright, ownership and intellectual property.
Teaching the talent out
Terri Steiner, Princeton, MA, USA
Clair Raabe’s clickback remarks reminded me of a piece of advice that an “appreciator” of my art had given me when I had enthusiastically told him that I was going to take an art class at my local Art Museum (I have had no art schooling)…He said, “Don’t let them teach the talent out of you…” After taking the class, I understood exactly what he meant!
I too have donated many paintings to fundraisers and charities. I am flattered to be asked but it can sometimes get out of hand. The performing artists groups seem to always need help but I have yet to see them put on a performance to help painters who also struggle to get their voice heard. We as visual artists are fortunate that the end product that is a painting is just part of the creative journey. This creative process is the ultimate gift to us with a painting being an added bonus.
Norma Hopkins, Bolton, Lancashire, England
I had two of my paintings mysteriously disappear. It was so damaging to me that I could not work for a while. A printer took them to a show, I believe there was some interest paid to them by the Marks & Spencer group. They never returned. He said that he sent them to Germany for the spring show there. I suspect that he sold them to cover the cost of his stand. I have never quite got over thinking about them from time to time and wondering where they are. I like to think that they were bought by someone who enjoys them. The worst case scenario would be that the person kept them and went into production. I comfort myself with the thought that they would turn up and he would be exposed for what he is.