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Meander Ploughing final copy

Meander Ploughing oil painting

Here’s a little story, a little story.

Towards the end of July I reveived an email from someone in America. It said her outfit (I’ll call her A) were interested in using pictures of mine as set decoration in a new Netflix series, tentatively titled ‘Ronald’. I thought this might be a joke, or a scam, but I asked for more info. Well, A replied, it’s a ten-episode series, with Emma Stone & Jonah Hill, directed by Cary Fukanaga (none of them known to me). My pictures would be used as set decoration in the ‘NATO offices in Iceland’. Checking on-line the series sounded plausible and the actors and director involved did exist. I had been to Reykjavik not so long ago, so it was also intriguing. They were interested in three paintings, A said: they would need hi-res digital scans; fee to be negotiated.

I thought that all this could sooner or later prove to be moon-dust. However, meantime I had two immediate problems. Firstly, I had no experience of negotiating a fee for repro rights, and would need some professional advice or representation. Secondly, I had not done a hi-res digital scan on any of my pictures. So I had to run around and find a scanner (not too difficult), and then find someone in the world of repro rights. I had a look at DACS (Design and Artist’s Copyright Society). and found that they do represent artists in this world. There was a difficult few days when A was pressing for immediate responses while I was busy filling in forms and getting myself represented by DACS. I was grateful to hand over to P at DACS.

At this point the location changed again, because the negotiation, given that it originated in the USA, was to be taken over by DACS’ sister organisation in the States, and the baton passed from P to F at ARS (Artist’s Rights Society). P told me F advised that they would look to collect a licensing fee of 1500 to 2000 dollars for the use, so a total of three and a half to four and a half thousand pounds total. That sounded serious stuff: after all, the total sale list-price for my paintings was about five and a half thousand pounds, whereas this would give me fees and leave me with the goods: only their ghosts gone. The only nuisance was that I would have to re register myself as a self-employed artist, having just agreed with HMRC that I could scarcely be regarded as commercially viable.

Bringing in the Hay lite

62 Bringing in the Hay. Oil on canvas 11.13

So far as negotiation was concerned, I said, I was more interested in my pictures being used than in the level of profit. As it happens I had a picture in a prestigious American gallery, and it would be nice to tell them that my work was moving around in Netflixville. What would all that add up to ?

So here comes the denoument (and we haven’t yet even had a nou): I got an email on 25 August from P to say that, after all, they had decided not to use my pictures as part of their set design. This was an editorial decision, he said. There you are, moondust again after one little month.

Somehow this all happened out of a clear blue sky: at least it means that the net is searched for material. I remain intrigued. Why might pictures of mine of the Norfolk landscape turn up on a NATO office wall in Iceland? Meantime, Ladies and Gents All, here are the said paintings before your very eyes: no new attempt has been made to extract their souls. Onwards and sideways.

Byre & Bird, Early Morning  small

Byre and Bird, Early Morning oil painting

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P1000700

The Studio

Clearing out is the beginning of Open  Studios. Necessary, and useful because you have mentally to audit all that stuff, materials, tools, odds and bits, you have accumulated, So I move things around in circles and hop from one part of the floor to the next clear area, repainting with a lighter grey floor paint.  Result: cleaner, clearer, with more light. (The floor is chipboard, on top of polystyrene insulation, on top of the original plank floor of this off-the-peg shed). At the same time I put round a skirting, against the vertical lining boards. I do this mainly to inhibit mouse activity, but I must say the result looks very neat.

Mice are a permanent problem. They get into drawers and chew up my drawings; a mouse has even chewed away the fibres on the back of a canvas in one place, leaving small holes showing in the front paint surface which I will have to repair.  Why would they do that?  Aha, a visitor says: in the basement of the RA Schools they stored linseed, which turned out to be a food store for rats and mice. The little bastards have also chewed the spines off some of my books, for the starch glue. They chew off the best bits of drawings to make a nest in the drawer. Could be worse: I reused an ancient stretcher, and a wood-worm ate its way through the wood making marginal holes in my canvas. Thank God woodworm aren’t as nippy as mice.

Anyway, once the walls are toshed out white again the whole studio converted to an amazingly clear, clean place ( it’s never like that when I am actually working)  So it is actually a fraud on the public – like the Iraq war or Brexit. Never mind.  It’s the illusion which counts.  It reminds me of the time we used to pop round to have coffee in Terry Frost’s studio – pictures everywhere at all stages, hanging, leaning against the wall, ready for ‘the old one-two’; paint, brushes, stand oil, confusion, stove, warm Nescafe and chat in a creative clutter. Years later I saw his paintings hanging on the sterilised walls of Tate St Ives, & thought how changed they were as chaste icons. Should the product be exhibited quite clear of the warmth of its generation? Or contrariwise, why do we want to know how Hokusai produced his works: isn’t it enough to have the prints and drawings?

 

P1000709

Living Room

Visitors are generally very friendly. I feel an absurd need to chat them up.  Not to try for sales, but because my chatter seems to be required as part of the entertainment. As if I am the product, not the work. I know that most of them won’t buy anything – many can’t – and they know that I know, and so ad infinitum.  Some people don’t like what they see: too ‘trad’ or too ‘modern’. I am always one of Tom Lehrer’s children, as I go sliding down the razor-blade of life.  One woman complains that these aren’t textiles – she has been misled by a road-sign. Actually, Madam, they are textiles – but I know what you mean.

It’s an odd business, coming up with an answer to nobody’s question, and then putting it up for sale. Of course, the opposite has its drawbacks – I mean producing something commissioned, to someone else’s criteria, with all the frustrations of not quite fulfilling he brief, regrets the client etc. Though at least then you can hate the client, and not exclusively yourself,  sole composer and performer of inadequate tunes for an empty street.

Was it worth it? Yes. I cleaned out the studio.  The talk was good; the visitors were warm. I sold a print and three pictures to good friends. Does that count? I reminded my good friends that I am still here doing whatever ‘it’ is And two cards. – enough to buy the next batch of materials; my pictures cheered me up/my pictures depressed me. Shall I do it again?  I don’t think so.  Shut, Sesame!

Somewhere in the corner of the room there has been a lot of discussion about the Arts in the last few days. The Guardian carried an interview with Julie Walters (Sat 24 Jan) in which she said that she, and working class kids like her, probably wouldn’t get into drama school today. This came in the context of a spat about a supposed dominance of silver-spoon singers and actors initiated by the Labour shadow culture minister Chris Bryant. There is an argument to be has as to whether ‘working-class’ is an adequate label any longer, but we know what Julie Walters means.

I would like to start the next paragraph “The fact is…” but we are desperately short of facts. Very little serious research is done into ‘cultural’ education. As a surmise there are probably fewer working class students studying and training on Arts courses these days, for two reasons. Firstly because this education is no longer easily available to the poorest potential students. The Education Ministry over decades pursued a relentless policy of pushing up entrance requirements. As I’ve pointed out before, this was a civil service policy, because until Gove, the average life of a Minister was about two years, which would not have given them the time to take on board and modify existing policy. Back in the ’60s Art and Design course were a conduit into higher education for working-class students; it was fairly easy in those days to get a place on a course.

Secondly this education is no longer free. Presumably the prospect of being lumbered with a £40,000 debt by the time you start work will put off students proportionately the poorer their background.

So far as raising the entry bar goes, in the late ‘sixties we were able to show that having five O levels or two A levels or no qualifications at all had very little influence on outcomes. Most Art & Design students in those days obtained employment related to their study within three months of leaving college. (Ritchie Dight Frost and Dight : The Employment of Art College Leavers HMSO 1972) This put paid to the myth that thousands of long-haired art school leavers were swelling the dole queues, so the report was sneaked out in the Summer recess. in the hope that no-one would notice it. The Ministry, faced with an actual concrete fact, continued nonetheless to push up the entrance qualifications in some drive for uniformity. But every rise in the bar meant denying access to a cohort of working class students. There is no good reason for these requirements: they should be dropped.

The second obstacle, affordability, requires a radical solution. Of course there is a problem of cost to the State when it expands education. Leaving aside the increase in cost itself, the proposition that it should be left to the Colleges to set the fees was crazy. The colleges immediately pitched their fees at the top end of possible charge, to show that they were not inferior to anyone else. Students meanwhile became lumbered with debt. It all was done in bad faith too, because the (non-silver-spoon) MPs who voted for these charges had mostly themselves been the beneficiaries of a free education.

A graduate tax system, which I read is to be advocated by Peter Hain in his new book The Future of Socialism, implies that the community (The State) accepts responsibility for enabling its citizens to undertake education or training to they level they require, while beneficiaries repay the community by paying somewhat higher tax over their lifetime, rather than carrying a mesmerizing individual loan debt at the beginning of their career. I associate this (I’m afraid wrongly) with “Here come I, Little Jack/ With my wife and family on my back!” To which you can add “my student loan and my mortgage”

So far I have talked about access to the Arts via education.
; there needs also to be much discussion about accessibility of the Arts, and the conditions of work and remuneration of the Arts makers. Here are some notes for that discussion:

1 The Arts are not a frill. They are a major industry in which (because of past investment) this country excels. It is in the natonal interest to sustain it.

2 If you want a peak of excellence, you have to maintain a broad base

3 A healthy arts ecology depends on artists of all varieties (writers, actors, musicians, painters, potters, designers etc) receiving a fair percentage of the profits made from their work. The Government can ensure a fair market-place, but does not.

I have given up on Sayid Javid. He doesn’t seem to have done anything as Culture Minister (please explain otherwise if you are listening). In any case the election is coming and he won’t be in post much longer. What I think anyone who cares about this area should do just now is to write to the political parties and ask them for their Arts policies. If, in the memorable words of someone interviwed by the BBC in a Grays Working Men’s Club the other day, “UKIP are Tories in Drag”, maybe they have a good line on drama?

Sayid Javid, (the new Minister for the Arts), was interviewed in The Guardian on Friday 6th June. What he said was hardly a manifesto, but we might as well start there. He said:  “I’ve made it clear that I didn’t grow up in the kind of family that went to the Donmar Warehouse [in London] or even the Bristol Old Vic. To be frank, it was a treat to get to the cinema to see a movie.”   Mark Lawson, interviewing him, continues: ” ..both the nature and variety of his childhood cultural experiences have informed his call that culture must be genuinely “for all,” drawing in those who have felt excluded by lack of money, education, or, most worryingly, by race or class. Javid is concerned with statistics showing that people from “black and minority ethnic” and “lower socio-economic” groups are much less likely to engage with the arts or to apply for jobs and grants in the sector. Why is that so?”  “Well, I’m asking the question. I’m not going to sit here without any research and come up with the answer.   I’m going to talk to people, maybe feed in my own experiences, and see what can be done to increase accessibility and diversity” This seems to mean that Javid believes in evidence-based policy. Let’s hope it does.

 

The one really weighty piece of research into Art and Design in our time, which flashes like a beacon, was Ritchie, Dight and Frost’s The Employment of Art School Leavers (HMSO 1972), research which was undertaken under the aegis of Margaret Thatcher  (who, the article tells us, is Javid’s ‘democratic hero’). The Ministry of Education, however, was intent on slimming down Art and Design, and so the intention, as justification, was to show an overproduction of students receiving a final qualification, who thus swelled the ranks of the unemployed. But the Report showed, contrariwise, that nearly three quarters of qualified students obtained an employment related to their studies within three months of completing their course, a better result than achieved by graduates from many other courses at that time. As this was definitely not the message the Ministry wanted, the Report was sneaked out in the Summer Recess, so as not to be noticed. I was on holiday like everyone else: in fact I was in the bath in St Ives when Richard Bourne, then Education Correspondent for The Guardian, rang to ask if I would like to review it. It became clear that the authors of the Report had not been properly briefed, that is to say, had not been made aware that there was a vigorous debate going on in the Art and Design sector about relevant entrance qualifications, Fortunately we were able, with the help of a friendly peer, to get some of the statistics re-run, to show that, in terms of outcome, there was no difference between those who had entered with 5 “O” levels and 1-2 “A” levels, and only a marginal difference between those with no “O” levels or 1-2 “O” levels. That is to say you didn’t do better because you started off with more academic qualifications.. This was obvious to those of us in the sector, but it was nice to have it officially stated. In fact the information was already available in the shape of Royal College of Art statistics. but there are none so blind as those who don’t wish to see.

 

The Schools of Art and Design since the war had been an admirable mix: women made up a large proportion of the intake, and working-class students learnt comfortably beside middle and upper class students. Within the melting-pot of Art and Design, students were equal, and it was what you created that mattered, not where you came from. That’s not to say that class didn’t impinge. One of my second year students, part of our interviewing panel, advised firmly that we should not accept the applicant we had just interviewed. “Why not?” I asked. “Because you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse!” But the central point is that Art and Design courses were a conduit into creative employment for working-class students; academic qualifications were broadly irrelevant to the skills needed and acquired. And each time the entrance qualification barrier was raised (because of some specious need to achieve uniformity across the system), another cohort of working-class people was denied access to this particular path into skill and employment. Furthermore, it is not enough to make the Arts available to all, though that is a worthy aim: they must also be made by all. And it follows that gifted individuals must be enabled to enter the system, whatever stratum of society they originally come from.

 

What was true in the early seventies is sadly still true now. Potential students from certain groups, as we are all ceaselessly reminded, are unlikely to have the (irrelevant) entrance qualifications required of them. So if Javid wants to increase access for “black and minority ethnic” and “lower socio-economic” groups, he should seek to get entrance qualification barriers lowered. I’ll say that again: it makes sense to reduce the entry requirements. Now that Gove has been forced out, there may be people in the Education Ministry who will listen to reason On the 6th of June 1968 Sir John Summerson, addressing the assembled members of Hornsey College of Art, Crouch End Hill, said that there were loop-holes in the entrance requirements for his new qualification: “It’s a doorway – but you think it should be a triumphal arch.”  Well, yes! That’s what we thought then, and it’s what we think now.

 

Dear Sajid Javid,

Welcome to the Arts.

 

First off, take some time to find out what is there, and what is happening, which is a great deal. Secondly, look at the history behind it, without which it cannot really be understood. For instance, the fact that Great Britain has historically had the most extensive system of Art and Design education in the world, in spite of persistent attempts by the Education Ministry to restrict, reduce, and diminish it, is one of the fundamental reasons for the vitality of the Arts in these islands (not just the visual arts, but also music). Thirdly, in emulation of the Hippocratic oath, DO NO HARM. And finally, DO SOME GOOD.

 

Policy is the best honesty. Most of the time we (the Public) can’t see what general outcome the Government, or the Opposition, of whatever party, is aiming at. When it comes to direction, there is always widespread fog. So we ask, where are you going? what sort of society are you aiming at? And where do practitioners of the Arts fit into this vision of society?

 

A statement of fact to begin with: the Arts are a pyramid, or if you like, an iceberg. That is to say, the power of this structure depends on the solidity of its base; it may be, as in the case of the iceberg, that only the tip is glowingly visible above the waves to most people most of the time, but the tip is only there because of what sustains it beneath. In order to have the best television and plays (for instance) you have to have many theatres and production companies, many writers, actors, musicians, cameramen, technicians, designers and so on to choose from. You can’t decide just to support a few, or ‘the best’ – next month ‘the best’ may be another grouping. Unless you have a broad spectrum there is no choice, and without choice you will not get the best. Also, if you allow the base to shrink, then in the longer run (once again, this will not be apparent for some time), the quality at the top will deteriorate.

 

Now for a guiding principle: intellectual property must be safeguarded:

for the creators. So far from being ripped off, they should be the substantial beneficiaries of commercial transactions. We creators don’t begrudge the disseminators of our intellectual property, those who sell, distribute, broadcast or publish, or the end-users of our works, their proper due, but we do demand a fair return for those of us who create the material in the first place. For Government, however mean-minded this may sound, ensuring that creators get a fair return from the rest of the system is the cheapest way of maintaining standards, and therefore overall income.

 

We are not talking here about something marginal, the decoration on the cake. The Arts, or the Entertainment Industry, if you prefer to call it that, is a major contributor to this country’s economy, and come to that, to the economy of most advanced nations. The ‘Arts and Culture Industry’ (sic) contributed an estimated £5.9 billion to UK GDP in 2011, that figure not counting the spin-off effect on Tourism. The true figure is probably much greater.

 

Let us look at some sample issues, all of which bear on our guiding principle. A major issue is the use of music. Through the internet it is nowadays possible for everyone to listen to music, but the payment which originating musicians receive for this use by an audience enormously larger than anyone has ever had in history, is ludicrously, disgracefully low. For instance (a real musician’s example), for 1296 performances of a piece on U-tube Alliance, the royalty for one of the four writers was 0.0284 pence. A penny a play, which does not seem exorbitant, would have produced £12.96 . Two plays on Spotify produced 0.0004 pence. How many million plays would it take, at this rate, to produce a living wage of (say) £20,000 per annum? (I am not a mathematician, so someone else may like to try, but I estimate that if 80% of the Chinese population played the piece on Spotify once a year, that might about produce the required income).

 

 

Because the Internet is notionally ‘free,’ consumers expect to have music for free. But music can only be free if the musicians are long dead. Real musicians who are alive need money to live on, and the money necessary to support their production. At present living musicians are ripped off by the big organisations – and by the public: these circumstances will eventually lead to the demise of music – at any rate alive, innovative, relevant music. The problem of how artists of any sort are to be protected from the pirating and exploitation of what they produce is not a new one. In the 19th century authors – Wordsworth, Dickens and others – had to fight for copyright agreements so that they could benefit from the income generated by sales of their works abroad, particularly in the USA – one of the main pirates, interestingly enough, was Benjamin Franklin – (see the useful article at http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/pva/pva75.html), but also from persistent pirating and copycatting at home.

 

This is not just a problem for musicians: with the Internet we now have a means, which did not exist before, of making visual artworks available to the world audience. But now we have a mass access to art, there must be a system of royalties for the digital use of our material. Like the musicians, we cannot live by bread alone – but we also cannot live without any bread at all. Ultimately negotiating and enforcing a system of payment for the use of intellectual property has to be done at Governmental level.

 

More crudely put, stop musicians and others being ripped off, on the one hand by internet moguls, and on the other by national pirates – even the piratical general public – as now happens. This could be ameliorated if there were much better Union organisation on the ground. But because access to recorded music has become nearly universal, there is no way individual musicians, or national Unions, can prevent their work being pirated. Once again, we should add, that as the sums are very considerable, the Government, by helping artists, would be helping itself.

 

Another issue, again focussed in the music area, is the difficulty of getting performers into this country. London has in the past been the vibrant centre of the World Music scene, but it isn’t any more. Our commanding position has been given away out of sheer carelessness. Why? because in the anxiety caused by xenophobic immigration panics, the Government has made it more and more difficult for performers to enter and work here. The number of embassies issuing visas has been reduced, so that many African musicians (for instance) have to apply to a neighbouring country: in some cases to go there in person. Whereas a Schengen passport gives access to most European countries, so that a sequence of concerts can be planned, we have a local system which puts obstacles in the way of a European tour which includes the UK. British visas are expensive, and require guarantors: but most of the small units of production which nurture World Music are not rich enough to be acceptable as guarantors. Through this sort of carelessness, or (or un-joined-up planning), a vital area of production is squeezed out.

 

One more example, this time in the visual arts. Dealers and galleries have developed the habit of requiring exhibitors whose work has been sold to pay the VAT liable on the commission they charge for sales, on top of the commission itself. This regularly brings the total to 50% or more (and clearly, the greater the commission, the greater the additional tax). The overwhelming majority of artists do not earn enough to register, and therefore to be able to claim back, the VAT already paid on their materials, so they pay tax on the materials to which they add value, but also on the value added at the next stage by the dealer- a perverse interpretation of the tax.

 

Here are a few issues. Clearly there are many others which can only be resolved at Government level, through the resources commanded by a Minister. You may have noticed that nothing here is demanding subsidy or special treatment, only a decent system, properly run. If you can set yourself to look into some of these issues, and resolve them, you will be doing the Arts and the nation a favour. You don’t have to be a fully paid up aesthetic intellectual to tell right from wrong, and to use your time to all of our benefits. We hope you will surprise us by your tenacity,

 

photo Jazz Green

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Gerhard Richter’s painting Abstraktes Bild (809-4) which belonged to Eric Clapton, sold at Sotheby’s for £21m. It is a very large painting, which appears to be about 10 ft square; a successful but otherwise not particularly interesting abstract, very rectangular, loosely painted, in scarlet and yellow on a dark blue ground – or maybe vice versa, it’s difficult to tell. Not his most challenging work. I could have put the picture here for you, but someone would probably sue me for copyright – it was the centrefold in the Guardian on 8/10/2012,

Under Artist’s Resale Right (Droit de Suite), Richter will get the maximum royalty allowed, which is 12,500 Euros. (I don’t know if you work on the figure after the auctioneer’s cut). Clapton bought the painting in New York for £2.1 million in 2001. My calculator tells me that for £21m someone could buy 7,000 of my larger paintings.

If I had know Clapton was going to be such a Maecenas I would have kept in touch with him after we went to the Zoo together on a cold winter’s day in the ‘sixties. But that’s another story.

The best comment to make on this sale is the one Fisher made when urging John Constable to send The Hay Wain  (or Hay Cart, as he called it), to Paris in 1824;

Let your Hay Cart go to Paris by all means. I am too much pulled down by agricultural distress to hope to possess it. I would (I think) let it go at   less than its price for the sake of the eclat it may give you. The stupid English public,  which has no judgement of its own, will begin to think there is something in you if the French make your works national property. You have long laid under a mistake. Men do not purchase pictures because they admire them, but because others covet them. Hence they will only buy what they think no one else can possess: things scarce and unique.

and examination again

The case of John B Gurdon is a perfect example of the fallibility of judgement as forecast.  When he was at school his biology teacher wrote:

“I believe Gurdon has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can’t learn simple biological facts he             would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to   teach him.

Last week he jointly won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Most of us know people who are not ready or engaged at one stage, but shine at another. The moral is that we should none of us take too much notice of examinations as predictors – or foster teaching systems which are primarily aimed at examination success rather than the fulfilment of individual potential – harder work for teachers, of course. But how would Gove understand that?  As far as I can see he has never taught, and is basically School of Gradgrind.

Part of the Land Marks Exhibition at the Harleston Gallery

The Artist’s Compleynte

My pics look so neat & so sweet on the wall –

But nobody’s buying the buggers at all

Soon they’ll be bundled back into the shed

With the mice and the spiders, as if they were dead

So come all you millionaires, get your art here

You’ll only be paying the froth off your beer

 

 

 

For artists get lonely, and some go insane

” Well they must have been wicked to earn so much pain!”

We need to buy paint, and we need to have fun

But it’s neither of either if we have no mun

So come all you gamblers & take my advice:

As soon as I snuff it they’ll double in price

 

 

 

 

But thanks to the lovers who saved up their all

To put a fine picture by me on their wall

May they relish their icon, and long may they thrive

And may I make a profit while I’m still alive

 

  22 August 2011

LAND MARKS Exhibition on show for the last week