You Already Know the Answer

In one of the art retreat yahoo groups this week, someone asked if anyone who’d atteneded a specific workshop would send her a copy of the class handout. I don’t know any of the details–perhaps she took the workshop and misplaced her handout. That happens a lot–in the excitement and scramble of schlepping supplies and then packing to go home, stuff gets lost. There are all kinds of explanations, but one of the teachers responded and pointed out something I think is really important, so I want to talk about it here.

If this happens to you–if you take a class and then lose the handout or supply list or whatever, the thing to do is to contact the instructor and ask for a replacement. She’ll probably be happy to send you one. But if that’s not what happened, it’s a whole nother story. Let’s say you took Workshops A, B, & C. You had a good time, and you learned a lot. But then you saw all the cool things people made in Workshop D, and now you have Art Retreat Attendee’s Remorse, in which you think, “Gee, I wish I’d taken Workshop D on Friday instead of Workshop B! Dang.” You wish that so fervently that you set about trying to get all the information about that workshop so you can make whatever-it-is yourself, once you get home. You collect the handout, the supply list, some photographs from people who took the class, maybe even a little video someone took during the instructor’s demo. It works so well, in fact, that it’s just like you actually took the workshop.

Except you didn’t. You didn’t sign up and pay the instructor to learn what she was teaching. To put it bluntly, you are stealing. You don’t agree? You’re arguing that information, once it’s out there, is free for everyone? Let’s think about it a little.

If your friend took a class and learned how to rivet, there’s nothing wrong with her offering to teach you how to rivet. Granted, you’re going to be learning second hand, from someone who just learned, rather than from someone who can suggest alternate ways of holding the tools and what kind of drill bits work best. But if your friend offers to photocopy the handout and supply list and give you the photographs she took in class, that’s something else.

While it’s tough to generalize about instructors, given that there are all kinds of them in our mixed media world, from those just starting out to those who have taught for years to those who teach only at the little shop arond the corner to those who travel around the world teaching, there are a couple of things that are pretty much universal:

~~Instructors work hard to prepare a workshop, creating samples and class proposals, handouts and step-by-step demos. They spend time and money and effort creating something that will allow other people to learn the skills and techniques required to make something cool.

~~This is how they earn a living. While some instructors may have day jobs and others may be supported by a wealthy partner or patron, most of the ones I know–and I know kind of a lot–are trying to put food on the table and new tires on the car (something I know all about, having just replaced the threadbare tires on our own vehicle, the one that boasts 110,000 miles). Teaching a popular workshop at a big retreat can mean the difference between making it through another year and having to go home and start looking for a job in retail. And let me just say this to anyone who’s grumbling, “I have to work a day job, so why shouldn’t they?” If you value the things you’ve learned from instructors, either at art retreats or in their books or online classes, do you really want them to have to take a full-time job, one that won’t give them time off to travel to teach and often means that they have to choose whether to spend what little free time remains teaching or trying to get into the studio to make their own art? Most will choose studio time, and there goes one of our really good instructors.

~~When you pay to take a workshop, you’re paying for the instructor’s time and attention and expertise in teaching you how to learn a skill or create a specific project. You are *not* paying for the rights to that workshop. Just because you paid rather a large chunk of change to take a full-day workshop from a nationally-known instructor doesn’t mean that that workshop is now yours to teach.

~~Instructors who provide kits do it so class time isn’t taken up with tedious tracing or cutting or whatever. You can sometimes buy an extra kit to take home and use for practice. What a kit doesn’t do is give you something you can assemble and enter into shows or contests or submit to magazines. While the kit may belong to you, the project is the intellectual property of the person who designed it.

And here I have to address something that’s beyond the pale in anyone’s book: taking a workshop not so you can learn but so you can profit. If you’re in a classroom not because you want to make the project but are, instead, walking around taking notes and photos so you can write up the project and submit it somewhere under your own name? What you’re doing is so very wrong that most of us don’t even know how to discuss it. But we’re working on ways to talk about this because it’s happening more and more and is hurting everyone.

I know of someone who did this, who would go to the big art retreats and take as many workshops as they could cram in and then would go back home to teach those workshops locally. They’d duplicate the class handouts and use the pieces they’d created in class as samples to be displayed at the local shop where they taught. Everyone knew what was going on, but nobody thought it was wrong, apparently: everyone eagerly waited each year to see what new classes they were going to get at a discount, without the expense of having to travel to the actual retreat and pay the person who created the workshop.

It doesn’t matter if you think instructors charge too much or if you reallyreallyreally wanted to take that workshop but couldn’t and think you deserve to have that handout and those photographs. None of that matters. What matters is what you already know: any time you try to figure out how to get something for nothing, or how to make money on something that doesn’t belong to you, you’ve crossed the line. No longer are you an artist, a member of the mixed media community, a participant in the wonderful world of sharing inspiration and ideas. Nope. What you become, when you try to figure out how to get something that doesn’t legitimately belong to you, is a liability. You become one of the reasons instructors are increasingly reluctant to allow photos or video in their workshops. You become one of the reasons there are fewer instructors willing to share what they’ve learned, one of the reasons it’s harder to find someone willing to travel to teach what they love.

If you love the community and want to be a part of it, you have to support it. If that means saving every penny to take a class, then that’s what you have to do. If it means that you wish you’d taken Workshop D instead if Workshop B, then you figure out how to take it next year, or you ask the instructor if maybe they’ll be offering it online or at another retreat or, maybe, if you could help them set up something nearer your town. If you think it’s important that there are workshops being offered in everything from encaustic to enameling and hope that that continues, you have to be supportive in whatever ways you can.

So. Do what you know is right. We all know what’s OK and what’s not, no matter how we might try to justify doing something we want to do just because, well, we *want* to. If you’re honestly not sure, ask. The thing to keep in mind here is that we’re all part of a wonderful community, built on sharing ideas and inspiration, and that community depends on everyone, from instructors to students, editors to authors, artists to organizers, doing what they already know is the right thing to do.


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17 Responses to You Already Know the Answer

  1. Timaree says:

    I hate to see this as a growing problem. Good article. I haven’t been able to travel to any of the national classes given by various groups. Thank goodness there are online classes and books for a lot of what I want to learn and someday perhaps I can travel for the classes I can’t get elsewhere.

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      Or maybe you can band together with local people and bring in an instructor for several workshops. It never hurts to ask if that’s a possibility~~

  2. PennyA says:

    Excellent article! Wonderful examples, too! I feel like you made a few points that folks don’t always take into consideration (caught up in the excitement, etc…) Thanks!

  3. smokeysmom says:

    Here, here! I mean let’s call it what it is – stealing! Don’t do it!

  4. kwallace says:

    Great article! Very important reflections. Thank you Karen

  5. Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

    Thank you, Penny and Karen. It’s something we need to talk about, for sure. XO

  6. Seth says:

    Very well said Rice!

  7. Margaret Applin says:

    Rice, I love how direct you are in this article. These things need to be said, need to be put out there in black and white. Thanks for that!

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      Thanks, Margaret. They *do* need to be said. We’ve all been muttering under our breath for too long.

  8. jkberry says:

    Ricë, you ROCK!!! This has been such a hard week, dealing with my copyright situation. I hope many people come here, read and educate themselves on something that would save us all a lot of heartache.

    Thanks for your bravado. BRAVA!!!

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      Thank you–I hope next week is better, and I hope this helps us all talk about the subject more openly. XO

  9. Eileen says:

    What do people not understan?. This is a form of stealing. .

  10. llindarae says:

    Great article!

  11. llindarae says:

    Great article! Can we share this with students?