Wow. We kind of have a lot to say about what’s right, what’s stealing, what belongs to us and what doesn’t, don’t we? And that’s great, because I really think we need to talk about this. I think it needs to be out there, a part of people’s consciousness. I think we all know of people who maybe need to be made aware that what they’re doing isn’t quite what they should be doing and that, yes, we’ve noticed. Because most of us are really polite, we haven’t said anything about it, at least not to people’s faces. Now, though, people are speaking out, saying: hey, if it’s not yours, it’s not yours.
~~If you took a class, it’s not your class to go out and teach.
~~Just because you found something on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free for you to use. That’s like saying you found some really nice lawn furniture sitting unattended in someone’s unfenced front yard and figure that meant it was OK to load it in the back of your pick-up and take it home. Just because people haven’t made something impossible to get to doesn’t mean they want you to take it.
~~Taking an image from a book or magazine and altering it doesn’t make it OK to use it. It still belongs to the person who owns the rights to it–the photographer or the entity to whom she sold the rights. Saying, “Oh, I altered it so no one could recognize it” is like when I used to work at Animal Control, back in the 1980s, and someone stole a brindle pit pull, a real pussy-cat of a dog, believe it or not, and spray-painted her white. Just because you’ve made something unrecognizable to the owner doesn’t mean it belongs to you; you can’t put it in a pen in your backyard and call it “Snowball.”
~~We’re not picking on students here. Most students are fabulous people, eager to learn new stuff and willing to share the things they already know. Just like everyone else involved in our mixed media community, they’re mostly really cool and wonderful people. The people who aren’t, the ones we’re talking about, are not just students. I think I’ve already relayed my own experience of teaching a workshop at a rubber stamp store and then having the owner sit in and then tell me she didn’t need me to teach it again because she was going to teach it herself–and it didn’t bother her a bit to tell me the reason was so that she didn’t have to pay me and could pocket the difference. At the time, I was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to do. I’d know today. Oh, my, yes.
~~Again, the way to tell, if somehow you don’t already know, is this: if you’re trying to figure out how to make money from something that isn’t yours or trying to figure out how to get something for nothing, stop.
For the rest of us–what can we do?
~~If you’re teaching, make your policies clear to your students and to whoever hired you. You can distribute a handout that spells everything out. Be pleasant, be clear, be brief. You don’t want to start out the workshop with a long rant about being ripped off, but you don’t want people wondering if they can take photos or if they can use your patterns in their own work. Explain in the handout that your classroom policies are designed to protect everyone and allow them to jump right into the workshop and have fun.
~~If you feel you need protection, think about getting a contract before you teach. I know nothing about this, and I don’t know whether or not anyone uses these when they teach workshops, but if it comes down to whether or not you’re going to continue to teach because of bad experiences, it might be something to consider. We all want you to feel protected so you can keep sharing your expertise with us.
~~If you’re a student, be a student. You’re there to learn, not to document. If you really need photographs, ask before you whip out the camera. Be respectful–ask before you take photos of other people’s projects. Don’t even think of surreptitiously recording the workshop–yeah, I’ve seen the iPhone propped on the table, recording everything. Be respectful, ask what’s OK and what isn’t, and go in with the intention of having a great time and learning all you can, not with figuring out what you can take away to share or teach on your own.
~~If you’re an organizer or a shop owner or someone else hiring an instructor, treat them as you would have treated your favorite third-grade teacher: respectfully and as if they have a lot you’d like to learn. When you hire a teacher, you’re hiring them to teach something specific. If you’re lucky and they have time, they may also be willing to share other tips and techniques and experiences that will be the icing on the cake. But hiring them to teach Soldering 101 doesn’t mean you own them and can pump them for their secret sources for materials or their recipe for marbling paper, just as being in Mrs. Leddermeyer’s art class didn’t mean you got to snoop inside her purse when she went to the water fountain and ask her nosy questions about why Mr. Leddermeyer always smelled like mothballs.
Once we’ve begun talking about this, about how to protect ourselves and our work and about what we’re willing to share, I think everyone will feel better. We can relax into knowing what others expect, and we can all dive in and enjoy each other’s company.
MORE RESOURCES FOR MIXED MEDIA ARTISTS