Do any of you remember carousel projectors? In the bad old days, instructors would project images of paintings on a screen. In a dimly lighted room (for they could never be fully dark), Bronzino’s Portrait of a Young Man would be reduced to a silhouette, all the delicate subtleties of the skin and drapery wiped out by the ambient light. Colleges paid good money for these slides, so access was tightly controlled. In special circumstances, you might be able to access a larger transparency and a lightbox.
Art books had mainly black and white illustrations, with the most important plates printed in color and tipped in. The quality of color printing was very poor compared to today.
For art enthusiasts the internet has been a godsend. We can go to any major institution’s website and flip through their collection like flash cards. For example, I routinely use Wikiart, Wikipedia, the Metropolitan and other online collections to research and illustrate this blog.
That’s why I found this ruling by the Swedish Supreme Court distressing. While I’m all for protecting the intellectual property of artists, I don’t think that’s done by restricting access to their work.
Current copyright law in the US says that an artist or his descendants own the rights to the work for 70 years after the death of the author. (If the work was a work for hire, then copyright lasts for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever is shorter.) Works created before 1978 have a different set of rules, but essentially if it’s more than a hundred years old, it’s out of copyright.
Andrew Wyeth took great care in the organization and construction of his paintings. However, it’s difficult to blog about this. The Farnsworth strictly limits image access to serious academic inquiry. I love Jamie Wyeth’s The Seven Deadly Sins but you won’t read about that series here; I can’t legally get the images. I abide by the Wyeths’ rules, but I can’t say I understand them.
The only people benefiting from reduced access are the few academics with research privileges. Meanwhile the opposing tide of open access is so strong and the competition is so good that it just rolls past those artists who don’t embrace the open-access concept.
Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World was acquired by MoMa in 1948 and aggressively promoted by that institution’s founder, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. He did that by showing it to people. Today the internet is awash in images and parodies of this painting.
As Wyeth’s star ascended in the Fifties, he astutely chose more rarified galleries for exclusive representation. Eventually, he could afford to withdraw from the gallery scene, but by then he was a very, very famous painter. Today Andrew Wyeth’s work is loved even by people who “don’t know art but know what they like.” They know him.