Images, Images everywhere

I came across an article recently titled “Why Can’t We Take Pictures in Art Museums?”  It struck me as particularly relevant for several projects I am working on right now, among them developing the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum’s Pinterest account.

Free access to artwork and images (by images I really mean photographs) of artwork is the goal of an increasing number of art institutions.  But while most pictures freely float through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc., images of artwork often cannot move so freely.  Let’s take the example of the Georges Braque exhibition this past spring.  All of the images of these artworks are copyrighted.  Even though the Kemper owns the actual painting Still Life with Glass (1930), the Artist Rights Society (ARS) owns the image.  This means that when the Kemper published the beautiful catalog that accompanied the exhibition, we paid ARS for use of that image in the print publication that we offered for sale.

Therefore, Pinterest presents somewhat of a problem regarding image use.  Pinterest deals in the visual, so as a museum, the Kemper is in a good position to share a lot of interesting, unique visuals.  But we can’t share many of them because of the rights and reproductions restrictions.  To further complicate the issue, most modern and contemporary artwork has some kind of image protection as I’ve explained, but most artwork created before the early 20th or mid-19th century does not, just by virtue of its age.  For instance, if you visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art Pinterest account, almost everything dates to the 19th century and before.  Unlike the Met, however, our collection is strongest in 20th and 21st century artwork.

What to do?  Well, there are lawyers involved, there are ARS and VAGA and other image management groups to consult, but there are not rules about image use on web-based platforms.  So there is not a solution…yet.  Some museums throw caution to the wind, others avoid the issues altogether by staying off Pinterest, Instagram, etc., others (like us) live in limbo.  There are many sides to free and unbridled image dissemination:  How else do artists make money?  Can our society value art if it is free?  Will widely available images hamper the appreciation of the actual work of art (the Mona Lisa effect, if you will)?

By Allison Fricke (Friday, July 19)

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