Carrie Miller reports on the development of new ethics guidelines for artists wanting to copy the work of others…
Regardless of where you stood on the issue of Sam Leach’s winning entry in this year’s Wynne Prize, it appears the controversy has sparked some in the art world into action on the issue of copying in art. The premier example of this is the Australia Council’s recent announcement that they will be drawing up formal guidelines in relation to the matter.
The Council’s decision to establish an Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct for the Copying of Other People’s Work came about not only as a consequence of the controversy surrounding Leach’s Wynne entry, but also because of long-standing allegations of unscrupulous behaviour within the contemporary art world more generally. As a spokesperson for the council said last week:
“Since the rise of postmodernism, we have been alerted to a number of instances of ‘copying’ by Australian artists. After investigating these allegations, we discovered that this has apparently been going on since the beginning of Western art history. It’s time that formal guidelines were put in place to clarify this sometimes ethically grey area, not only for artists, but for collectors and the art-going public.”
The Code is an attempt to negotiate the legal, cultural, ethical and economic issues at stake in work not deemed “truly original”. It aims to establish a number of minimum standards of appropriate and ethical conduct as agreed by the industry and other stakeholders, with the overall aim “to improve the transparency of inspiration across the visual arts sector” and “to clearly define the rights and responsibilities of artists in relation to the authorship of artworks”.
The author’s own drawing below Manet’s ‘Olympia’. Artistic inspiration or just plain forgery? You be the judge.
While the process is in its early stages, with submissions for a Draft Code only just being called for, one prominent art critic from a leading Australian newspaper – who spoke on the condition of anonymity – believes that any comprehensive Code needs to “quantify, on a sliding scale, the degrees to which an artist has copied another person’s work”. He also argues that the government “should implement a scheme where work is clearly labeled according to the extent to which it draws on previous work”. This critic has already drafted his own proposed scale which he will be submitting to the Australia Council for consideration. The Art Life obtained a copy of this earlier today:
- 10% imaginatively draws on
- 20% influenced by
- 30% heavily influenced by
- 40% heavily under the influence
- 50% in the style of
- 60% derivative of
- 70% appropriated
- 80% pastiche
- 90% plagiarised
- 100% forgery
The idea is that a regulatory body would be set up to assess all work to be publicly displayed or privately collected and given a rating based on such a scale. This would potentially have far-reaching implications for the Australian art market. If, for example, a work was determined to be 50% copied, it may not hold its value as much as one judged to be only 10% replicated.
No doubt, the charge of paternalism will be levelled at those who seek to codify artistic practice, most likely from that section of the arts community that took offence to government intervention in Bill Henson’s public display of nude adolescents. But so far only a couple of individual gallery operators have been prepared to speak out against the move. One claims the importance of the need to avoid “a paternalistic or prescriptive approach to artistic practice”, arguing, ”What right do we have to codify what an artist is allowed to represent?”
Regardless of this type of dissent from the ‘avant-garde’ segment of the art world, it appears likely that artists will finally have to take responsibility for what they produce. If the Code of Conduct gets ups it may put an end to the feeling by many in the community that they are being “taken for a ride by a bunch of charlatans” as Ashley from Crows Nest put it in a recent letter to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Submissions for the Draft Code are now being taken by the Council. Whatever its final form takes, it’s sure to be controversial.
If you would like to submit your ideas for the Code, you can post them as readers’ comments below and The Art Life will pass them on to the Australia Council as part of its own submission.