This bit of writing is inspired and prompted by recent events regarding a national – and may I add – very prestigious art competition. There has been quite some debate and opposing opinions about how art is judged and perceived, but also about participant conduct. What I’d like to explore here is the notion of ownership of creative work. Specifically, I’ll be looking at ethical consideration and proper conduct of the creative ownership of images depicting another human being.
Throughout history artists, designers and photographer have used other people a s models and main subjects in creative work. Many of these works have been challenging and even controversial. The European artists of the golden era of classical art depicted naked models and Michelangelo’s David sculpture is one of the most well-known and celebrated works of art from the Renaissance period. Sculptures and paintings like this could have, and may have, sparked issues of artistic integrity of the artists and their models. But, it probably didn’t. This may be because the works of art offered an idealist and humanistic image of man. It may also be because the artists made their intentions to the models clear and had a purpose for the artwork articulated right from the beginning of the creative process.
Nowadays we seem to have forgotten that everyone involved in the creation of an art piece or any other work is impacted by the way the finished product is used, distributed or presented. Usage rights; terms and conditions; competition rules; and copyright laws are systems created to protect creative- and intellectual property, but they are also there to try and ensure proper conduct of the creative process and the way that the property is used to impact viewers, society or users. Where and how do we integrate basic human rights and notions of integrity and personal protection into these systems? Because it does not seem to have been included to sufficiently aid or protect everyone involved in creating creative property.
Most people react negatively to an artwork when our ideal perceptions of ourselves and others are challenged. One of art’s purposes or social responsibilities is to challenge conventions and question accepted norms. Thus, I do not wish to propose that art should always be idealized views of humanity or pretty reproductions of life’s positive side. What I do want to emphasize is that if an artwork is made to challenge views and also be presented to a large audience, everyone involved in the creation of the piece should be fully aware of the extent to which the artwork could create reaction from the public. If the integrity or reputation of any participants – such as the models – could be damaged or influenced negatively in any way, they should be informed and their consent be attained. This, in my opinion, should especially apply to public work and any work that gets or could get published and made available to large audiences.
A lot could still be said on this subject and my viewpoint substantiated. However, I will conclude by saying that we are heading for an ongoing degradation of values in the creative world if artists, designer and photographers are allowed to create artwork, without regard of personal integrity and the rights of all living beings associated with the creation process.