Monday, February 13, 2017

Toxicity in the Art World

Toxicity in the art world...it's not what you might think.
Original painting by Brenda Swenson
It all started in early January when I received two separate messages on Facebook.  Delilah and Suzanne notified me that one of my paintings was on the cover of a national arts supply catalog. It was obvious to them someone had copied my painting. I am so thankful that these women cared enough to message me. I owe them a debt of gratitude! 

I sent an email to the company. What came next was weeks of countless emails and phone calls. The company was rightly concerned because they were in the middle of a copyright infringement…a bad legal situation. The company wanted to write me a check…I declined. It wasn’t about the money…it’s about protecting what is my property. Instead I asked if they’d give a gift certificate to my local elementary school, for the art program. They gave a generous gift. I also outlined what I expected from the company.

*My artwork to be removed from their website and e-publications.
*An apology from the student
*An apology from the instructor
*Implement an artwork/photo release form for all future competitions. All artwork and source material must be original. No copies.
*A written notice stating that the artwork was a copy of an original painting by Brenda Swenson and copied without permission. 

The company has complied with my requests…but it’s too late to retrieve the catalogs that were mailed. I don’t wish to damage the company with negative publicity. They’ve made serious efforts to correct the matter immediately and put new guidelines in place to avoid something like this happening again.

Copy of my painting "CAL 46". Cover on left. Feature on right.

As you can see I blocked out the company information. I also blocked out the teacher’s and student’s full name and school. The teacher and I had a chance to talk and she was genuinely sorry for what happened. She was not aware that the artwork was a copy.

I’ve included the catalog cover (left) and feature (right). The student, Cassie talks about her inspiration. She stole my words, too! She had no idea how much of me went into my painting, “CAL 46”. I own the truck in the painting, the vintage license plate is in my studio, the painting earned me signature status in a watercolor society, featured in my book and much more. She entered a copy of my painting in a competition and happily accepted national publicity… an award… for my work. She has not apologized.

This is where it gets tough. Why? Because I have to look at myself. I’ve allowed her thoughtless actions to interfere with my life. Being angry has cost me too much: time, energy and emotions. To remain angry is toxic. I have two choices. I can be in control of my feelings or remain bitter towards the young woman. To remain bitter or angry is toxic. I’m ready to move on…not because of her… but because of me.

Happy Painting!
Brenda

Please don’t tell me how to watermark or reduce my artwork so people will have a harder time stealing. If you do you're missing the point.  Please read my post on Ethics and Art and


***Update 2/14/2017*** Letter of apology arrived
I am so ready to put this matter behind me and move on. I can only hope the event opened people's eyes to how painful and upsetting it can be for everyone involved. I'm sure it was a painful lesson for the young woman, too.
I hope this post helped bring a greater understanding to teachers, students, schools, art supply companies and publications. Painters/Artists do have ownership rights to what we create. If you do NOT have the artists permission...do NOT download it, copy, save to computer... do NOT print, copy, sell or show work that is NOT yours. 


Enough said.
~Brenda





42 comments:

  1. what a story - sad to see your work get stolen but the way you dealt with it was correct and I admire your attitude in the end. Good lesson to teach all of us.

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    1. Krys, Thanks! I appreciate your kind words.
      Brenda

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  2. I like how you handled that. I hope they will also print a correction in their publication, show your beautiful painting, give you the proper credit, mention how graciously you handled it but what a nightmare it would have been for them and the student if you had taken your rightful approach, and write the same sort of reminder to their audience. (Love your work.)

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    1. Kathy, Thanks! The company was gracious. They shared my blog post on Ethics and Art with their readers, too.
      Brenda

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  3. Your approach to this took a great amount of courage and kindness. A lawsuit would have taken way too much time and have drawn out the agony for you. You are creative in so many ways. Thanks for sharing this very difficult situation. A lesson for everyone.

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    1. Bravo Brenda...you're gracious kindness to the company, school and teacher are commendable. A lesson for all. I wonder how Cassie is feeling regarding her lack of understanding of the situation? Time will tell!

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    2. Kris, Thanks! I tried to be creative in a resolution. In the end a local school received art supplies. That made me happy!
      Brenda

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    3. Loretta, Thank you! It's nice to be at a place that I can feel DONE with it. I am ready to move on to fun projects.
      Brenda

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  4. I am so sorry! And what a shame that the student apparently doesn't realize that's stealing, pure and simple. Life is going to be a challenge.

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    1. Kate, I think her unwillingness to say she was sorry bugged me the most. It was a learning opportunity for her on so many levels. You're right...life will be a challenge for her.
      XOX

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  5. lots to think about. And, in the end, you are so right: let it go and move on. For yourself.

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  6. Brenda, you are a forgiving person and I can see that it comes from your generous nature. Just looking at your blog you hold nothing back. I'm glad you've decided to move on and not let Cassie's refusing to apologize stop you from creating. We need strong women like you now more than ever. I'm sure she's embarrassed at being caught and I do believe that once she thinks about what she did and how wrong it was she'll do the right thing.
    Delilah

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    1. Delilah,
      I owe you a debt of gratitude!!! Thank you soon much for sending the cover and messaging me on Facebook. It is a teach-able moment when shared with my readers. If people understand how wrong it is and it came come back to haunt them...maybe it won't seem so harmless and they'll think twice.
      Hugs,
      Brenda

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  7. Brenda- I am very happy that you stopped the company and the teacher, and student. This has happened before in my school district at a sister high school. The student entered a contest done at the school using an acquired image. The student won a the contest. But lost it all when the image was discovered " borrowed." Unfortunately this happens a lot in high schools when teachers want students to win contests, gain recognition. This is an example of poor teaching. Students in high school and college should be drawing and painting from life! If photos are used, it must be their own photo- not one acquired from the internet. I'll bet this student also traced your image with an overhead projector or some other device. I feel your pain, but as a past art teacher who never allowed students to do this, and had students competing against those who did makes for a bigger toxic art experience.

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    1. Joani,
      I feel like I'm pushing against and overwhelming tide. Some days I don't have the strength to fight against immortally. It's something that can't be taught.
      Brenda

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  8. Brenda- check out my blog. http://ARTicipate.com
    - joani

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  9. Wow, Brenda, what grace you have shown through an awful situation. It reminds me of many years of painful learning how there are those who are "rule followers" versus "do anything to win". Status, awards, trophies all are enticing, but integrity, true talent, and hard work always win in the end. Hard lessons to learn, but I'm grateful for the people in my life who know the difference. Your artwork is a gift, and someone being so jealous of it to call it their own are missing out on what possible talents they may have been given.

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    1. Bless your heart 💕. Your thoughtful and kind comments made my day !

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  10. You're so kind and generous...I'm sorry someone STOLE from you and when caught red handed didn't even appreciate the gravity of what she'd done, enough to even apologize. I see a future plagued with problems because of this young person's total lack of a moral compass. How did we raise a generation of children that are so 'entitle' that stealing something is an option, and cheating to win a silly prize seems justified. Makes me sad and angry all at the same time.

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  11. Brenda, You have shown grace and courage in your response to this incident...not only in your response to the company, the teacher and the student, but also in the way you have shared it with us. When I was in college a sculpture of mine was stolen by a fellow student who was at that time student teaching and she showed her students the work AS HERS! I will never forget the sick feeling it gave me when I discovered that theft, so I can imagine your feelings on discovering this theft! You set a wonderfully strong example to all in the art world.....your solution is perfect; it is too bad this student could not have seen what she did as the major wrong that it was.

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  12. Beautifully handled. You've had some past issues with stealing as I remember. Just disgraceful the student hasn't really learned anything about art or ethics. Moving on...sometimes more difficult with so many emotions involved.

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  13. Hi Brenda, I applaud you for your courage and grace. I'm stunned that the student has not apologized. So sorry this has happened to you. Thank you for sharing what must be a painful story.

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  14. Brenda, Unfortunately (as a former high school art teacher) these things occur without the art teacher knowing about the original artwork. I've seen it happen in college level as well. The biggest problem is that the student probably doesn't think it is a big deal because their world is so small in the art world. They even have to sign a form for art submissions that they original. THe school usually doesn't get involved either, and the art teacher handles it. Certainly don't want to embarass the student!

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  15. I say BRAVO to the two people who brought this to your attention, BRAVO to you for the mature and professional way you've handled it, and BRAVO to the company who published the catalog, for their eagerness to "fix it" to the best of their ability. (I can only imagine how devastated they were at the fraudulent use of your work, presented by the student as her own; they are also victims.)
    My sister's father-in-law was a well-known, high-profile maritime artist. His work appeared on a number of pages of a book on tall ships -- without his knowledge or permission. This was probably 40 years ago, before the copyright laws were made clearer to the public. Still, people don't get it. "I got it on the Internet," seems to give license to use whatever it is.
    You "did good," Brenda, and thanks for sharing this harrowing tale with people who admire and support you.

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  16. Thanks Brenda for sharing this. It helps me understand more clearly both at a heart and mind level what creating is about. I also appreciate your choice to not stay in anger. Encouraging to me and to many others I'm sure.

    Stewart Wakeman

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  17. Standing up for your own work is not being "toxic," if you aren't for yourself, who will be? What you did was very gracious and forgiving and the student got off very lightly.

    I once saw a print that looked exactly like an Eyvind Earl piece for sale for a large sum in a gallery, but it was by a woman artist. I notified the Eyvind Earl heritage gallery and they took legal action against the woman. She claimed to have been a student of his, actually "studied under," were the words she used, but she had really only been an assistant for a couple of months, maybe. She had been doing this for years and now was forced to remove all mention of Earl on her websites, etc. We have to stand up together against copyright infringement.

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  18. That is amazing they just traced and copied your work and submitted it as their own?
    It is good to do a image search on your own work every once and awhile. Always surprised what I find.

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  19. Sadly, many of us deal with this regularly. You walk into a store and see your work there... but without permission, or find it in a magazine without your knowledge. I once walked into Target and their whole Christmas scheme was stolen from me. Three of my friends discovered their art on Amazon just last week.
    Theft is not flattery. Watermarking doesn't help. You're doing the best we can possibly do: stop it when you find it, then move on. I like to remind myself, they can only copy what we did yesterday. They can't grow and go on to better like I can. They can't only copy, we can make actual art that comes from a passionate heart and skilled hands.
    Applauding you from the Pacific Northwest. Keep going, Brenda.

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    1. Sharyn, I really like "they can only copy what we did yesterday. They can't grow and go on to better like I can."
      Hugs, Brenda

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  20. Oh, Brenda, I'm so sorry this happened to you! I've been having this copyright conversation today with a group I'm with. Another artist hired a lawyer and sued, received $250,000. But that's not the point either. This is theft! And to post it for wide public view as her own work is unbelievable!! I'm enraged on your behalf. Unbelievable!

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  21. Dear Brenda, I am a high school art teacher and admirer of your work. I am so sorry that this happened to you. It is inexcusable that you have not received apologies from either the student or teacher. In the art classroom, I am constantly emphasizing the importance of respect for the work of others and originality. I teach my students how to gather ideas and imagery from their own lives rather than the internet. My students have to create original sketches and their own photographs as references if they are not working from life. Please know that there are many of us out here working hard to shape the minds of young artists with integrity. God bless! Lisa McGehee

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  22. Dear Brenda, I know, you are ready to put this behind you, and I don't want to belabor it, but really wanted to comment, in support of you. As a beginning artist, I have--in my own little private journal, painted other artists' work, purely as a learning tool. I would never, and I am so grieved for you that someone did, submit a copy as tho it were mine. And you know, I am so sorry for Cassie, that she would not only do this, but to not apologize indicates she is on a wrong path in this life. I really am grieved for you. Keep on making beautiful art for us, for you. love, Sandy

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  23. Thank you for sharing your story, Brenda, and for sharing photos of your painting and the student painting that was illegally copied from your painting. I think you handled the situation very well and your demands were reasonable. I hope the school board and principal at the school learn what the teacher did. Disgraceful. Keep up your very informative and encouraging blog. Your paintings are wonderful!

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  24. I agree with Delilah completely. We need strong women in the art world now more than ever. You handled a difficult and painful betrayal with intelligence and foresight. You made lemonade with the lemons handed to you. Based on the way you handled the worst part, I'm confident you'll manage the emotional fallout just fine. Until that young artist finds humility from this powerful lesson something important in her own work will be missing. Humility is key. It's the antidote to toxicity.

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  25. Brenda, thank you for this post - you handled an ugly situation with grace!

    When I was in art school, a fellow student stole several ceramic pieces I'd made, before they were fired, actually digging out my signature in the clay and crudely signing it as hers. I confronted her on it and she denied it.

    Years later, she was arrested for climbing a neighbor's barn and stealing the weathervane. Some people never learn. Your post made me feel much better about my work being stolen!

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  26. You took a negative situation and turned it into positive actions - helping the catalog establish a better policy, and even donating to a school's art program. That is an admirable response. Thank you for this example of seeing the "bigger picture" and keeping it in perspective, and refusing to let it perpetuate more negativity. Regards, Beth Bourland, sketcher in Alameda Calif.

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  27. It was painful to read about your situation but I learned so much from you by how you handled it.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  28. So sorry you had to go through this experience, Brenda, but I commend you on the gracious way you handled it. I do hope it has served as a lesson in ethics and morals for Cassie.

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    1. Serena,
      Thanks for words of support. I'm glad I was able to turn the experience into a teachable moment.
      Brenda

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  29. When I was in art during all four years of high school our teacher had stacks and stacks of art magazines. She'd tell us to go through them and pick out paintings we wanted to paint ourselves. We did that constantly. And entered them into art shows, etc. Never a word was spoken about copyright or anything. That's just how we learned to paint. I never thought it was a big deal until I'm now doing my own art work and would hate for your situation to happen. I know it's a compliment in a way that the artist was so inspired by your work she wanted to recreate it but she went too far with it! I think art teachers need to teach about copyright issues..... your work is beautiful and your blog is fascinating!

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  30. Stacy, Thanks for your comment. I wish teachers would teach and not tell students to copy. It's a reflection on their ability to "teach" and understanding of laws in the art world.

    Best wishes on your art adventures!

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