We live in the Age of the Image, and for we who make and express ourselves through imagery this is a great time to live in. However, the downside of this, with all this image sharing, the line between celebrating or paying homage to, and outright theft can blur... a lot. More often than not, the crossing is obvious, clear and unmistakable. It happens to everyone who makes and shares their art online and in print. It comes from all places and fronts, both high end and low. But there's a common response that can put it to an end, all it requires is that we stand behind each other as artists to make it work.
Part of existing, thriving and growing one's ability to live and pay for their lives as artists today relies heavily on coordinating and exploiting the massive revolution in social media and online exposure. It can and does, mean the difference between 20-60 people seeing your work in a gallery versus hundreds of thousands and upward. There are ongoing arguments of which is the better way to show and see work, but I think that relies upon a false premise- both have assets that can make each other work better. As a student or kid starting to look to a life in art, being able to have access to online images, WIPs, blog posts, FB interactions and information on new work and even live meet and greets is a gift beyond measure. (I would have lost my MIND to have had such a resource growing up as mine was largely rare visits to museums, the occasional art book for xmas, and whatever our Britanica might have offered up). It provides a resource and can help a young person copy practice and study a vast array of work and technique like never before. I get dozens of personal letters with some of my original pieces copied by kids or students of art, tattoos of my art, and more and I love each and every one that comes by. This is homage. It's pure fan motivation, and comes from a place of love and respect in a way that is so blush-warming and encouraging. This is the fantastic push-back from putting yourself out there in the world and especially online. I don't think I know of any artist who does not feel as I do about this.
So why is this bad?
We as individual artists are not large corporate entities, or big pocketed studios for whom this kind of marginal fringe parasitical behavior is simply the cost of doing business, or even beneficial in terms of exposing others to their own shops or properties. It means they taking from you, is having a outsized financial impact upon your ability to make a living as an artist. They are abusing the sharing and open-armed nature of how social media and online communities work. Personally it makes me feel violated when I see this, and I feel it too when I hear it happening to others- and it happens far more often that it should or that we deserve.
So... what can we do about this?
The community in which we all participate, share, and engage with each other in does require of us at times, to give back to the group in this way. It makes the community a stronger place, it makes the internet a safer place to share and promote work. It simply states to those that would tell us as artists otherwise, that we have a value and we are willing to remind you of how loud that value can sound should we be given the opportunity. The power they acknowledge by stealing from you is still your power, and you can use it against this kind of act effectively.