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Community vs. Commercialism in Art

I previously wrote about the ownership of media.  Once you purchased it, the murky question of ownership leads to other questions, but once something is created and released, who gets usage of the art created and how far can they go?  And how can the artist make money when everyone has access to it?

Last night, I had the privilege of attending the Arts and Tech Meetup, where the topic of the evening was Creative Commons licensing.  Representatives from The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Creative Commons, an artist and a lawyer were on the panel, where they discussed the how and why people would choose to use a non-commercial sharing license over a commercial license that would give the artist more control over the art they have created.

The Brooklyn Museum shares its pictures with the world via Flickr.  Anyone can go to the website and look at the artworks displayed at the museum, and if they choose to, they can download the picture for personal use, but hold the higher res images for purchase.  A problem arose when an enterprising hacker downloaded all the high res photos in the Brooklyn Museum collection and uploaded them to relevant wikipedia articles.  While the lower res pictures were available for non-commercial use, the higher res ones were not, and the user overstepped their bounds.

So if the Brooklyn Museum has these problems with sharing online, why would they?  The museum is able to share the art with users who otherwise would not be able to see the art and build a community among the people viewing the art online.  They can tag the photos giving more information to the people viewing the photos, like tagging people and buildings in photographs and paintings.  People can interact with artists and museum staff and gain a wealth of knowledge they would not have been able to otherwise, either because they were too far to visit the museum or would not have had this level of access to them.

In the older mediums, the artist and museum had full control over the art and its usage.  You had to go to the museum to see the art and potentially buy a print at the museum.  The new models allow their art to be accessed by far more people, but at the cost of revenue.  Since more people have access, they are less likely to purchase a reproduction when they can view it online at any time.  It becomes a balance of revenue vs. accessibility.

Can an artist successfully balance a community vs. commercial balance necessary to survive?  By keeping the work more accessible, it becomes less desirable, as familiarity deteriorates desire.  A truly digital work is harder to control, with each copy being an infinite and exact duplicate, but work created in a physical medium can find a balance.  Everyone has seen the Mona Lisa, but people line up daily to see it in person at the Louvre to marvel at the original painting.  If modern artists create works as alluring, surely they too can find a way to garner the interest necessary for people to pay to see and purchase reproductions of the artwork.

The commerce vs. audience argument was just a fraction of what was discussed by the panel last night, and one that could be explored much further on its own than just a piece of the Creative Commons puzzle.  How can artists continue to control their art when digital representations can be anywhere and everywhere in seconds and how can they maintain some sort of control, if they desire it, when anyone with a cellphone can surreptitiously capture an image of the work and share with thousands instantly?

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