ABOLISH THE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL - QUESTION MARK
By Derek Strahan BA Cantab (Modern Languages, French & Spanish)
Part 2 - AGENDA - ARTS ORGANISATIONS : A BRIEF HISTORY
The main agenda of this exercise is:
TO EMPOWER THE INDIVIDUAL CREATIVE ARTIST WITH AUTONOMY.
Many aspects of Australia Council operations and procedures could be discussed, but tonight only those pertinent this agenda will be raised.
Does the individual creative artist have autonomy now?
A simple sounding question, but not so simple to answer, since there are various levels at which autonomy must operate if the artist is to have total autonomy. If autonomy is not total, if it is restricted, then there is no autonomy, not if the word means what it says. You can't be partly autonomous, any more than you can be partly pregnant.
Firstly, let's look at the term: Individual Creative Artist. The term itself is tautologous. The same idea is repeated. An artist should, by definition, be creative, since art is artifice, and, to exist, art must be created by the agency of the mind. Nevertheless, we have to use the term Creative Artist, to define an artist who is solely responsible for the concept underlying the artwork which he or she produces; and we distinguish such an artist from one who employs technique to produce a work to specifications supplied by an employer.
It is the issue of copyright which, legally, distinguishes the employee-artist from the creative artist. Who owns the concept? The employee-artist works to concepts which he or she does not own, except through negotiations to establish a degree of beneficial ownership. These negotiations, however, must, of necessity, be additional to the negotiations which establish the artist's working wage. For example, when I wrote TV soap opera scripts I never owned what I wrote, and though I had to use some creative ingenuity in my writing, I was not working to an original concept, but one which had been created by a consultative team at a story conference.
I might have contributed ideas at that conference, but the moment I contributed them, I ceased to own them. Writing a script for a feature film is only slightly different. You own what you write while you are writing it, but at the point where the production company undertakes to make a film from the script, and your full fee is paid up, you are obliged in law to surrender copyright in the script to the production company.
In an entirely separate negotiation, a writer may secure a percentage interest in profits, net or gross, made from marketing the resulting film. But that's an entirely different deal, which few writers succeed in striking.
And the situation is entirely different again as regards painters. Although, in common law, painters retain copyright in their work, this doesn't do them much good, if they sell the original, which is usually what painters do. Reproduction rights don't amount to much in the art market.
Most art lovers buy a painting not only for the love of art, but also to acquire a property of which they have exclusive ownership, in the hope will the property will increase in monetary value. Capital appreciation as much as artistic appreciation!
Since the increase in monetary value will be in direct proportion to the scarcity of the artwork, the less it is cheapened through reproduction the greater the capital growth will be. This is a simple law of commerce. Scarcity raises the price. Abundance lowers it. So the opportunity for painters to earn royalties through sale of reproductions is very limited.
The method of the marketing of a painting is in total contrast to the method of the marketing a book or a music composition. The marketing of these is almost entirely geared to mechanical reproduction of the artwork, for reading or listening, or to live re-enactment of it. These are the means by which income is generated.
The contrast could not be greater, and so we cannot have one cure-all solution to the earning problems of all the various kinds of artists represented by all the different crafts. Nevertheless, despite these complexities, let's not lose sight of the focus of this discussion. The focus is on the Creative Artist.
Is the term Creative Artist sufficient? Do we need to gild the lily and say Individual Creative Artist? It shouldn't be necessary, but, in practise, it is, in order to distinguish the Individual Artist, as an entity, from an Arts Organisation, which is also an entity. Why? Because we're going to examine what advantages an Arts Organisation enjoys in law, which the Individual Artist does not enjoy.
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