Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Another Bout of Counting Angels on the Head of a Pin

This one will probably go nowhere, but I'll throw it out there all the same, suspecting that there's something here worth tossing about:

In thinking through the issues raised by the news that Annie Leibovitz has borrowed about $15m to firm up her personal finances and put up "as collateral the copyright, negatives and contract rights to every photograph she has ever taken or will take in future until the loans are paid off," I was reminded of a quote I had read on a Starbuck's coffee cup:
"The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life."

--- Anne Morris
This quote came to me as I began to wonder how knowing someone else held the copyright to the work you were making right now might impact its quality.

It's a silly question in some regards, I know, as Ms. Leibovitz is by all accounts a total professional, but I can't help but imagine that knowing someone else holds the copyrights to what you're creating would change how you, the artist, feel about it. And whether that shift in your personal relationship with the work would show some how.

And then it occurred to me, recalling that quote, that it might actually be somewhat liberating and possibly lead to her most accomplished work yet. Why? Perhaps because her inner critic is given license to make the work to satisfy someone other than herself, and there would be less self-doubt involved.

I'm not thinking all the clearly this morning (sinus problems, don't you know), so I'll turn the keyboards over to you fine folks. The thread is on what relationship, if any, owning the copyright of one's work has on how the process of making it.

P.S. For more on this topic today, see Conscientious.

Labels: artists process, copyright


Anonymous Marissa Neave said...

Collateral is all about risk. People put precious, expensive, sentimental things up as collateral all the time. Leibovitz just has the advantage of having financially valuable work while she's still alive. It's not a real shock to me; she's just in a rather unique position.

2/25/2009 09:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would suspect that no matter how professional one is, having to guarantee significant income to cover a $15 million loan, or lose control of your work (and houses?) permanently, might not be the best place to be.

2/25/2009 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

First, you need a nehti pot second, where did all the money go in the first place? Was this another Madoff scum baggian deal?

It's very sad that a woman who obviously worked so hard and developed an amazing career has to start over. Where was her council?
So many questions.

Ultimately she still has a strong career, she should pay off the loan fairly quickly.

2/25/2009 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

I read the article, too. This reminded me of a couple of pop stars (David Bowie initially comes to mind) that sold futures against their profits for money "today." This was done in the heyday of a couple of stock market bubbles ago.

While David Bowie is likely to be more of a producer than performer at this point, I don't know how well those people that bought a piece of his output fared, but I do not recall Mr Bowie coming out with any hit albums, etc. But pop music is not visual art.

Also, arrangements in the record industry resemble Ms. Leibovitz's deal, futures or not. I wonder if the prices of her work increase and she is unable to benefit from it - if she will attempt to break the contract, and if unsuccessful, go "on strike" as is common with music artists who feel left out of their own success.

It certainly will be interesting to see how it goes - because the sum commanded by Ms. Leibovitz was not small, perhaps she will do well artistically since her work has been paid for up front, as it were.

2/25/2009 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

From the article it sounds like she just overextended herself, plain and simple. If I recall (don't have the article in front of me), she did a number of renovations to homes and studio spaces that spiraled out of control cost-wise. Having done some home renovation, I know how easy it is to spend 2-3x your initial budget, and New York City is a very unforgiving place for anything connected to real estate.

I suppose this arrangement is preferable to bankruptcy, though it sure feels like she sold her soul in the process. I am not sure a bankruptcy court would have similar terms.

Interesting how many people overextended themselves during the boom as well. Cautionary tale that it isn't how much you make, but how well you manage it. And many folks don't manage it that well. I have my moments, so I am pointing to myself as much as anyone else!

2/25/2009 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Since the copyrights are collateral, I'm guessing she keeps those copyrights until she defaults. So it shouldn't effect the way she feels about her work until things start to look really grim for her. Or am I missing something?

2/25/2009 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger ruben said...

I was shocked when I read it. Just to think that somebody already owns the work that she not even created!

Annie Leibovitz has done pretty well but , that is quite a hefty amount to reckon with.

Is a very risky career and business move.Everybody in the Art world is talking about it.

2/25/2009 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Maybe she's functioning as a symbol right now - as a focus for the fears of the art world in this time of economic crisis. However, and very probably, her particular troubles are unique to her - and also very probably, would have beset her regardless of the state of the economy. So we probably should not try to draw any lessons from her woes.

2/25/2009 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

I think the bigger story is how the D of "Debt" is happening, and a lot of people are trying to maintain a standard of living through borrowing. I expect if this is a "recession bridge loan" for the bankers who have been reduced in pay to $500k/yr, if the recession and financial turmoil continues, I think we'll see a lot of good art up on the blocks. I wonder how many people were on the edge before the recession hit?

It appears that Ms. Leibovitz was caught up in a series of decisions and events that put her in dire financial straits. The lesson I would draw from her trouble is to not over extend yourself, and avoid costly litigation if you can help it.

2/25/2009 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Selling your soul for 15 mil? Where’s the pen Mephistopheles?

2/25/2009 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Ken Hagler said...

It's apparently pretty common for someone else to on the copyright to an artist's work--that seems to be the standard working arrangement for staff photojournalists, and the default for all professional photographers in Canada.

It probably wouldn't be too hard for someone so inclined to round up samples of the "work for hire" photos that such people have taken along with their personal work for comparison...

2/25/2009 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous steplikeagiant said...

Yes, it is my experience that when I am making work for some other purpose than pleasing me, my inner critic shuts right up, especially if there is money involved.

2/25/2009 11:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

I'm thinking that if it were me, I'd try to unload one of my pieces of real estate instead of mortgaging the copyrights to my own work. But of course, if she just put a few million into renovating, and now the "value" of the property is now less than that, she would be taking a huge loss if she sold now.

Then another part of me thinks, we should all have such problems. I know this wasn't the issue Ed raised, but in this economic climate I find it hard to have a lot of sympathy for people with such problems. I mean, I have sympathy, but I have a lot more immediate sympathy for people who may be losing their only houses, who are losing their jobs, who can't put their kids through college, who don't own any property or collateral (like most of the artists I know), etc.

As I said, this is slightly off-topic, but in a crisis situation we go into survival mode and start looking at someone with Leibovitz's means as part of the "them" in an us versus them class war. And even while I'm saying that, I know that looking at it that way is not in my best interests, that I need to find a way to think about Annie as part of the "us", to see everyone as part of the same community. I guess I'm so freaked out about the economy that every situation/conversation brings me back to the instability I feel. Can I get an amen, people, or is it just me?

2/25/2009 11:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

I hear you, James. But not everybody's soul is "worth" 15 mil.

2/25/2009 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Annie B said...

Yes to what Ken Hagler said. I do a lot of commercial work as a freelance illustrator and for about 30% of the inquiries I receive I'm asked to sign a contract stating that I agree to transfer all rights including copyright to the entity that's hiring me. That's called Work for Hire and we illustrators hate it. This is different than Leibovitz's case because she's actually receiving good money for the transfer of rights. In the case of work for hire, clients are generally unwilling to give extra compensation for transfer of all rights and will simply go find someone else if an artist refuses the terms. Anyhow, depending on my own personal economies, I sometimes accept these jobs and I will freely admit that when I'm doing a work for hire job I do *not* do my best work. I fulfill the job specs in every way, but I don't go that extra distance that I might go when I know that I will have re-use of the image I'm creating. (Added note: if a client is willing to pay me a fair amount for transfer of copyrights I *will* do my best work, so there's that...)

2/25/2009 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

Didn't the collateral include her real estate properties as well as her past and future body of work?

While the sum is staggering to me, it still feels like a deal with the devil. If she is unable to pay them back, she is more or less an indentured servant.

2/25/2009 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Yo Oriane,
“But not everybody's soul is "worth" 15 mil.” Can we say sub prime mortgage crisis of the soul, toxic spiritual assets. Who’d bail us out of creative bankruptcy?

2/25/2009 01:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the cycle of debt continues...

2/25/2009 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

I read this article and I was a little shocked on how someone so successful could be so desperate to sign a deal like this. Did anyone notice that Schnabel is suing them.

She had all this property and that was not enough?

I have a feeling that this will not end well for Leibovitz or her children.

2/25/2009 03:27:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

It is interesting to note that this has happened before and seems like successful artist do fall into serious debt for living large.

Rembrandt went broke, partly because he lost his wife Saskia's dowry after she died, and partly some think due to the huge finical downturn in Holland and the tulip bubble bust. (sound familiar) Every painting he produced was owned by his creditors in the later years of his life.

2/25/2009 03:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would gladly trade title of all my production in exchange for financial security in order to produce the next bodies of work. If someone wanted to pretend to be an artist and sign what I do, that would be fine by me. At least until I actually find myself in that situation...

2/25/2009 05:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caught up in the wrong plane? Need a bridge, a loan, what?

ヒソヒソ( ゚∀(・-・)? Lend me your ear!

Money [1] can't buy souls due to different dimensions each exists on. Souls on the 7th. We're on the 4th.
Ask any dead rich artist and the reply will be, 'Indeed, I'm rich, but penniless.'
But none of that helps on this plane, so a decision based on the particular predicament should have practical consequences.
A petty thief often steals to feed themselves, and/or friend, or family. If the thief decides to stop, stop eating stop supplying, and circumstances don't provide another opportunity, that thief is dead. [2] And the big soul bank on the 7th floor has to right off that body as a bad loan. Now if the bank begins to get too many of these bad loans, it starts to have a strain on its lending agents.
And too many half-or-less replenished souls hanging out on the 7th floor doesn't help things along either.
So, this is what happens! The bank starts giving smaller and shorter-term loans as grass, twigs, small trees. These bodies don't borrow, don't steal, don't ponder - so they pay there debt -- on time -- and finish up early.
Eventually the bank finds itself in a position to risk something bigger. But the head of the bank throws a last minute meeting. Sez he to his investors, 'Look I think going bigger is not the best bet! Diversity is better!
The rest is history, and thus born was the [3] tadpole.

1. 'thou shall not steal', is one of those moral tropes for the poor.

2. The body in relation to the soul: The body is the repayments. You repay no matter what, every day. The soul is slowly liberated and enriched by these repayments. And once everything is paid up, there are no more payments. And that's it.

3. Being supported would be great. 15mil for a couple of years production, I could live with that. But one's remaining, and perhaps untapped creativity... as repayments... no! Now that is theft!

Is this the right stop? Ed, or am I posting off again (・_・?)


2/25/2009 07:27:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

A real artist would sell their hous befor they sold the rights to their work.


If they thought their work was Arrrrt.

I guess Lebovitz isn't pretentious enough to have a soul, or souls.

Do Rolling Stone Covers qualify as art?

2/25/2009 11:24:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Edward said "... possibly lead to her most accomplished work yet ... her inner critic is given license ... there would be less self-doubt involved."

When I let my inner critic loosen its standards, the quality of my work suffers as a result. No artist who has gone through a period where they loosened up, and cranked out work for the market, has ever done their best work in that period. (I think of Chagall and Picasso in the 1950s.) My self-doubts, in the sense of agonizing over aesthetic choices I've made or am making (color scheme, composition, etc.), are what goad me to do better. And it really can be agony. What artist would put themselves through this process for his or her owners?

(I hope you feel better today, Edward.)

2/26/2009 04:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Biff said...

The quote by Anne Morris is compelling because it describes something familiar in the workings of our personal motivational system. But, the issue seems to resolve around the relationship between what we make and what we are paid for same. This is the exact question that must be answered by every artist without income. How is my work affected by what I have to do to inject it into the marketplace? If there is a buyer, what are they buying, my autonomy, or my work?
If I'm selling my autonomy, isn't this then undermining the essential authorship of what I have made?

Commercial artists, or artists who have a name in the Art World are in a somewhat different game than the lone experimenter who has little audience. The former have perhaps come to terms with Mephisto long since, and the latter may be swathed in their idealism. Without a place in the limelight, they are indeed in some jeopardy of not establishing themselves if they do not establish their own autonomous voice. Some might say that this real-life market interface problem is part of the definition of being in the business, and not in isolation. That the Darwinian survival principle must do its' work.

In Paris, in the nineteenth century, the children of the newly forming middle-class felt it was important (or unavoidable) to be outside the system. The idea being that purity of intention produced purity of Art. This has come down to us as the cliche Bohemian artist mindset. But there remains something worth considering here.

Ultimately, this issue does seem to be Very particular to the individual. Some artists are not only not bothered by joining the brothel, but actually enhanced by this process. And their work is edited, but not essentially, by the workings of the system.

2/26/2009 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Rail against the commercial artists like Lebovitz? No, I shan't.

Neither side is pretty.

There real are dangers to playing the role of the Byronic hero, to be sure.

I would call part of the bohemian artist mindset, or "the myth of the artist" - Byron coupled with watered down marxism from skilled (or deskilled) sour grapes academics.

These two streams Byron and Pop Marxist ideology, add up to a thin steaming porridge when you hit the mean streets without social support or coffee shop without an apple macbook pro jacked into the mainstream.

But what if that art school mythologizing is all you have to form an identity with?

I think raising a kid on art magazines and celebrity, and then sending them through art school is like giving the key to heaven to children, the better to clear the minefields with.

This is no way to prepare anyone, let alone form and nurture a complex society.

Lack of leadership in insular academia translates to lack of leadership in the art world.

But adjuncts, how can they survive let alone lead on starvation pay?

The modern art Taliban must prepare a better business model, or face shrinkage, despair, mockery and anihilation against the machine guns of the entrenched old Turks.

Lack of leadership and foresight in the art world Turks will lead to its collapse back into internecine tribal warfare as we saw in Iraq.

No audience for anything but spectacle and shallow mimesis.

Like Deitch. Do you want an art world where the only art is that of Mardi Gras? Not I!

That's why Clement the Great is still mourned by anyone over 40.

Older failed artist! Poor saps! Still stuck on class warfare issues - echos of labor strife and Marxist coffee house chatter. What a dull emaciated culture that appears to be (the new art audience is illiterate you know) compared to the media saturated porridge the kids are fed on today.

No, there will be those who welcome a smaller older, grey goose model.

No amount of scouring will keep talented artists from becoming celebrity chefs, mark my words.

Maybe real artists are born, not made.

I doubt it.

Annie Lebovitz, I do not mourn thee.

2/26/2009 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Art world gossip aside this is one of the stranger topics so far.

...and there would be less self-doubt involved.

I would suggest that self-doubt may be a positive thing that can drive the artist to greater levels of inspiration. Put 'doubt' into a class with other emotional states, they come and go in a lifetime. It is the struggle to navigate these emotional shoals which can elevate art beyond the mundane results of diligent application.

Choices from Bushmills to Two Buck Chuck can provide an alternative if the pain is too great.

2/26/2009 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

Sounds like Annie Lebovitz INC, just went public, will she be ringing the bell at 9:30? I don't see it as selling your soul, I see it as gaining investors, I wonder who will be on the board of directors?

2/27/2009 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

I wonder what it will do to the price of her work if someone else has the rights and can flood the market with her images?

3/01/2009 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Guess this sums it up best

3/01/2009 08:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is the full story here:

She didn't live beyong her means, she had to cough up half the value of her deceased partners (Susan Sontag) estate to continue living there-because she was not allowed the same privelages as straight married couples. The press made it out to look like she was living beyond her means but really she's just another victim of the state refusing to legalize gay marriage, and now she's paying for it.

3/02/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She didn't overextend herself, she was penalized for not being straight as she has to pay half the value of the estate to the government because her partner Susan Sontag passed away.

3/02/2009 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

Hey, this totally dovetails with the Maureen Mullarkey post. What synchronicity! Everything is connected to everything else.

I'm not sure about the complete legal accuracy of that account (the link above), but it's a good point that hadn't occurred to me - that because Annie could not marry her partner, when her partner died she had some inheritance tax issues that straight married people don't have. I take back my lack of sympathy for her financial problems. To lose your long-term partner (after a long and painful illness) and then have to cough up half the value of the estate in order to keep it must be very hard. I sympathize.

And to Maureen, if you're reading this, think about it. This is a concrete example of how denying gay marriage discriminates.

3/02/2009 11:34:00 AM  

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