Monday, February 23, 2009

When Your Work Is Admired...

Coffee in the Austin skyline mug, the sound of the Music of the Spheres wind chimes out on the deck and the chirping and chattering of birds at the feeders for music. I'm not actually sitting on the back deck as it's not warm enough for me to be out there this morning--the pond is iced over again--but the sounds from there carry clearly into the quiet house.

I didn't post over the weekend. I promised a post, and I didn't deliver. In part I didn't post because it was a tough, packed, long weekend. But mostly I didn't post because I promised a difficult post that I am reluctant to write. Why? Because a blog is a *very* public forum, and this is a delicate issue. On the other hand it's also a very real, professional issue that many artists have to confront, and what I write could help both them and me as I reconcile my feelings about the situation and attempt to move on.

But can I write from a perspective that would even close to approximate fair and even? What I write is always what happened in a given situation from *my* point of view. Any time two people disagree there are always two points of view. I could try to present both here, but ultimately all I have is my point of view and my *understanding* of the other person's point of view and motivation. I spent the weekend seesawing back and forth as to if that would be enough. Would it be fair to put out into the world an issue that I believe to have been caused by an honest misinterpretation and no deliberate ill intent and which I also believe to be resolved? My final answer is, Yes. Another friend--whose father is a lawyer--told me during the show that a contract is not created as a starting point for litigation. A contract is created at the beginning of a relationship to communicate expectations, roles, responsibilities and recourse in the relationship. It is meant to avoid confusion, confrontation and legal action.

So I write this post to lay out the important details of what happened, and to record where I believe we go from here. It both celebrates the positive, amicable outcome reached by respectful communication and honest good will, and serves as a reminder to me later on of my expectations in our continued relationship.

A friend and colleague with whom I established a collaboratory relationship a couple of years ago and for whose metal work I have made several panels of glass in my Morceaux de Verre style has had a hard year. It has been both personally and professionally tough due to death and the economy. As we sentient beings do in stressful times, he looked for something he could do to improve his situation both emotionally and economically. Through a series of circumstances including the almost accidental acquisition of a second-hand kiln, he hit upon making his own glass panels for his metal sculptures. So far so good.

A couple of other friends who are also kilnformers showed him the basics of fusing glass, and he started with what he knew he liked and wanted for his work--panels of blended, transparent bands of frit in bright, primary colors. In short, he started with my pieces. He did not set out to copy them--in fact he made some conscious changes in the way he laid out the glass so that it wouldn't be copying. He looked at the pieces I made for his sculptures, took what he liked best about them and used that as a jumping off point for the pieces he made to put in his new sculptures and to bring to the show. Unfortunately, those pieces that he brought to the Buyer's Market were still too close in style to my work. When I looked at them from a distance I had a hard time telling which were his and which were mine cut down. The situation was further complicated and aggravated by the presence of some of my work in other sculptures in his booth.

So what did I do? For once, I did exactly what I should have done. I talked to him about my issues with his new work as calmly and supportively as I could. He is my friend and a fellow artist. I fully support his need to expand his work in new creative directions and media. I appreciate that he likes the look of blended waves of transparent-colored frit on a clear base with a particular hue and color saturation--and I recognize that Bullseye frit comes in a narrow set of colors and both the thickness of the finished piece and the use of a clear base dictate to some extent the final color saturation.

However the bottom line is that not only is his work derivative of mine (it is undeniable that he started with the pieces I made for him), it is still close enough in style that the creator is not clear to my customers--who in at least one case that I know of are also his customers. He needs to continue to develop his own style so that by our next show together (the end of May) our work is obviously and at a glance made by different artists.

I think (I hope) I communicated everything in this post to him in the way a friend and fellow artist would, and I have every expectation that both he and I will be happy with his new direction in May. He has indicated that he would still like me to create large pieces for him--the ones he is making are just for his new, smaller line--and I am completely open to continuing this arrangement. Now let's hope it all just works out.


Bill said...

Oh, dear.

Anonymous said...

Brenda, you handled the situation with grace. Both with the artist and here publicly.

I did see the work in question, and calling it derivative is being polite. You have made the right and effective choice.

Nancy Goodenough

Dee said...

brenda, a very diplomatic post, excellent. now i hope you are in the studio working and that dave is fielding a multitude of job offers...

ren said...

i agree, "grace" is the word that came to mind for me too. you are an artist in the truest sense of the word and i am so impressed by your attitude towards this situation. i don't think i would have handled things as well.