Art Thieves, Vagabonds and ne’er-do-wells, How do we Catch ’em and Stop ’em?

That’s not Tracey Emin’s bed, it’s mine!

Where’s the money gone?

I think you will agree with me when I say that most artists get a very small return on the effort they invest in creating their art work, and that most of us put our artwork out there on the net, in the hope that someone, somewhere will take a bite.

But we all know that this means taking a big risk. Whether like me you are a painter creating, abstract art, wall prints, canvas prints or photography art, by putting our hard work on the web we our making our artwork vulnerable to any predators who might copy our photographs or paintings and use them without our authorisation. So how can we stop this?

Well it turns out that there is someone who can help us.

Here’s the deal

There is a new program called Pixsy. The company who makes the software claim that it will track down images, (paintings, photos) that have been used without the author’s permission.

How does it work?

What you as an artist do is send your pictures to Pixsy and they will compare them with images throughout the web and report back to you. What Pixsy says is this:

‘We use reverse image search to scour the web and will let you know when we discover matches for your photos. If a use is unauthorized, you can just click “Submit case” and we’ll help you seek compensation’.

Pixys say they will do the work, catch the thieves, and you will get paid.

How much money do you want?

Artists’ provide a service, the service receives a payment and then often a repeat payment. But how much payment does an artist require for the same piece of work?

So do I get royalties?queen_england_elizabeth_ii

Artists’ receive things called royalties, payments on items they have produced which are given to them every time that item is used.Not many other businesses receive such privileged treatment which is lucky really. Imagine if every time you turned your bath tap on your plummer demanded a fresh payment on the grounds that once again you were making use of his handiwork. Nightmare!

You never give me your money

Whether an artist gets paid a reasonable wage for his efforts at times feels like a lottery. And for the lucky few, it pays like one too. For a lot of artists whether they succeed or not is often a matter of timing mixed with good luck. As  John Lennon said, ‘we (the Beatles) were just a band who got very big, that’s all’. Who knows if John Lennon hadn’t bumped into Paul McCartney at the garden fete of St Peter’s Church, Woolton, all those years ago, there might never have been any Beatles.

John’s letter to Paul

Time you got lucky

So how much does luck play a part in your success? Does an artist just get lucky, waking up one day to find that his valueless paintings have suddenly become extremely valuable?  Van Gogh sold few paintings in his lifetime usually exchanging them for food and painting supplies. No internet website for him, then. In 190 one of his paintings sold for $82,500,000, just imagine how many baguettes and bouteilles de vin you could get with that …

Money for nothing

Back in 1952 John Cage wrote a piece of music called 4’33” or to give it its full title,  ‘4 minutes 33 seconds’. I haven’t actually heard it but I believe it consists of 4 minutes 33 seconds of silence. I’m pretty sure I also wrote a similar piece and still have the tapes to prove it. I’m hoping that Pixsy can compare the two and let me know which one is his and which one is mine.

Money in the bank or money in a Banksy?

So should artists’ be paid royalties? Or is art simply overvalued? And if so where does that value come from?  Our choices when purchasing art is often based on whether or not the artist is well known and therefore a worthwhile investment (These days you get less return in the bank  than you do investing in a Banksy). Decorative art, which is what I am now pursuing, is often valued on nothing more than whether the painting’s colour matches the home owners colour scheme (do you have it in blue?) One gallery even told me that the most popular seller is the painting that can fit snuggly into the space above a 75″ plasma TV.

What’s in it for me?

When an artist creates a work he gathers the things around him and processes them through his mind. What comes out the other end we either emotionally invest in or we don’t. The artist’s work can be considered unique simply because it has been processed by his or her brain and given their individual slant. Artistic interpretation occurs in visual arts and also in music. So if the world ends tomorrow, what will be precious to you? will you make a beeline for your loved ones or your collection of Elton John CDs? ( And talking of which, on my first instructional art video my music was added as an afterthought, click here to see what I did on YouTube!)

The bottom line

Ars longa vita brevis or, life is short art is long, nowadays refers to ‘how time limits our accomplishments in life’. Whether our originality as artists has any intrinsic worth and will outlive us none of us know. It is usually a matter of chance whether we make a living by receiving royalties or not, but why not leave it to  Pixsy and let them fix that for us.

However as artists whether or not we get our just deserts is not a valid reason for giving up. Who knows? Perhaps one day  our paintings will speak out for us long after we have gone.

Keep the faith

Here’s a poem to reflect upon something valuable which none of us should give up on and that is the value of life itself. And I hope no one ‘reverse images’ my use of this poem and claims loads of cash from me for printing it:

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
Edward Thomas, In Memoriam (Easter, 1915)

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Get On With It, Do It Now!

The Romans called it a memento mori, some object that reminds you life is short and one day we all die. It is a concept that is often explored by artists, it can be seen in the painting and sculpting of bones and skulls found in medieval and Victorian England and on Puritan tomb stones in the United States.

Andrea Previtali - Portrait of a Man - Memento Mori
Andrea Previtali – Portrait of a Man – Memento Mori

It can be expressed in the words, Tempus fugit, meaning, ‘time flies’ which even today are still written alongside clocks.

In Mexico, the Day of the Dead celebrates and reminds us of those who have already died.

Signs that life is short are everywhere in art, the often quoted Latin phrase, ‘ars long vita brevis,’ dates back to the Greek physician, Hippocrates; tells us that life is short, but art endures.

In an interview George Harrison once spoke about all those books he probably would never read.

‘Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend,’ is a well known Beatles quote, the unintentional irony of which was later revealed through the many legal wrangles that hounded the Beatles right up until the present day. What a waste.

So perhaps today is the best time to start completing all those things we keep putting off.

Time is short, and as Shakespeare said: ‘our little life, is rounded with a sleep.’ A sleep at the beginning and a sleep at the end. The time to do things is now. And if you haven’t had enough already, here’s another quote:

The happy days are here and now.
Now is the time to laugh and live, drink all the wine,
Sing all the songs that live can give.
Our yesterdays are dead and gone,
Tomorrow lives so far away,
So be alive and think of now as the happy days.

(The Happy Days – Charles Aznavour)

And finally, one more:

Gérôme - An Arab Caravan outside a Fortified Town, Egypt
Gérôme – An Arab Caravan outside a Fortified Town, Egypt

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

– Omar Khyyam.

Get on with it! Do it now!