How Should Artists Be Paid?: Hollis Frampton's Letter to MoMA and the Price Artists Pay for Autonomy

Comments

1
Hallelujah, amen.
2
Sometimes this is described as the difference between an artist and an artisan. An artist creates completed works which are sold once. They maintain the copyright and can sell duplicates of that work. An artisan or craftsperson creates works for hire. They do not own the completed work and are generally not creating works which are copyrightable.

A house painter may be very skilled, but their work is the homeowner's once it is completed. In contrast I own a painting by a local artist, but though I own the physical object I did not acquire the right to duplicate the art. The artist still maintains copyright and can sell posters and cards if they want.

It's easier to be an artisan and get paid as you go than to be an artist, but to ask to both control the copyrights on your work and to be paid as you go is probably going to be met by resistance.
3
What Fletc3er wrote is true, but an exception is the case of an illustrator. Illustrators sometimes do "work for hire" and forfeit all rights, but if the work for hire condition isn't in writing then the illustrator is understood to own the copyright of the final work. The illustrator owns by default a bundle of reproduction rights, sale of which are negotiated on a case by case basis (print rights only, print and web, exclusive for a limited time period or geographical area, etc.). If a client wants full ownership (copyright) they must negotiate for that. Being an illustrator isn't a bad life!
4
Nice Germinal reference!

Also, to quote John Scalzi, "Fuck you, pay me."

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/12/09/a-…
5
Jen... I think your points are valid and I appreciate the article for providing a perspective that I had never considered (being a lifelong general laborer, as opposed to an artist).

The one quibble I have is in the comparison of artist-as-CEO. I see the point you are making and it is an interesting one... but think the truer equivalency in this case is artist-as-entrepreneur. The distinction may seem minor, but I think it is important. A CEO may have ultimate decision-making authority in an organization, but unless that CEO is also the sole-proprietor or majority stakeholder, she/he has a boss. That is to say, the decisions made by a CEO must ultimately lead to someone else making money in order to remain a CEO (though, that is by no means intended to be a positive commentary on how we as a society have allowed the dramatic overvaluation of the profit-motive in our economic/financial system). It's just that the equivalency to the artist that you are attempting to make becomes inadequate from this perspective. It is more equivalent to a small-business owner/sole proprietor.
6
The link to the liked film does not seem to be correct.

" Hollis Frampton's letter to the Museum of Modern Art— ... (Here's one of his films I like.)"
7
The key is that Frampton was not asking for the MoMA to pay for his labor- his labor and costs were already sunk into his movies, whatever revenue from the MoMA's retrospective he did receive did not require any further work on his part. Any compensation was simply to persuade him to grant MoMA the rights to show existing works.

Meanwhile, all the technicians he mentions (including himself, in other roles) were being paid for their labor. They don't continue to receive payments- presumably they would not receive any cut of the revenue he asked from MoMA.

The tradeoff is not for being the one in charge- plenty of CEOs are very well compensated for their labor thank you very much. The tradeoff is being an owner. Insofar as intellectual property is or should be capital (which is certainly debatable), Frampton was a capitalist in the most basic sense in that he owned the means of (re-)production, in the form of a government-sanctioned monopoly on the rights to show his works. The tradeoff is that he can rake in millions from those works, well beyond the cost of their production, including the cost of his own labor; or he can rake in nothing and end up in debt for it. He takes on that risk/reward tradeoff himself.

There is no moral quandry for MoMA in 1973 nor for society at large today. The letter is just part of a price negotiation- the MoMA was hoping for free and Frampton was suggesting something more than free. Presumably they arrived at a mutually aggreeable sum. Yay capitalism and government-sponsored constructions of non-tangible property.
8
Thank you @5 & 6 for validating my need to read unregistered comments. Without you two, I would've struck out for today.

@5 raises an interesting distinction with Jen's initial point, reposted here for those with unregistered off.

"Jen... I think your points are valid and I appreciate the article for providing a perspective that I had never considered (being a lifelong general laborer, as opposed to an artist).

The one quibble I have is in the comparison of artist-as-CEO. I see the point you are making and it is an interesting one... but think the truer equivalency in this case is artist-as-entrepreneur. The distinction may seem minor, but I think it is important. A CEO may have ultimate decision-making authority in an organization, but unless that CEO is also the sole-proprietor or majority stakeholder, she/he has a boss. That is to say, the decisions made by a CEO must ultimately lead to someone else making money in order to remain a CEO (though, that is by no means intended to be a positive commentary on how we as a society have allowed the dramatic overvaluation of the profit-motive in our economic/financial system). It's just that the equivalency to the artist that you are attempting to make becomes inadequate from this perspective. It is more equivalent to a small-business owner/sole proprietor."
9
The value of art can depend on demand but most artists are unable to influence demand through any other means than the work itself. If artists do not conceive and execute work that generates demand, the expectation that a work of art have a value that meets or exceeds the price of the materials and the artist's labor is moot. Demand does exist in grant funding. Set amounts of money with eligibility, purpose and criteria are stated in black and white. Artists submit budgets that include fees for their labor. The question becomes, how can grants be funded to blend the needs and desires of the community with the needs and desires of the creators?
10
So what is an artist's time worth? One way to set a minimum wage is to determine the artist's annual cost of living and divide that by the number of hours they work in a year.