There are two things I need to write about today, this first being about Dale Chihuly and the second about a kickass show I saw last night, which will take some more time.
I saved this NYT article by Timothy Egan about the Chihuly scandal that's been a topic around here over the past few months because there are interesting parallels concerning copyright issues. The local papers in Seattle have been writing about the law suit for some time now, and I've been ambivalent about who is right and wrong. Now that it's national news and I have some slightly more clearly formed ideas about music copyrights, I thought I'd pipe in. (For those who don't know what scandal I am referring to and did not click the link to the article, Dale Chihuly is suing some of his workers over copyright issues. Because he is the master designer but has not actually formed any of the glass scupltures himself for almost 30 years, there are many gray areas to navigate, especially when discussing ownership over glass representations of "oceanic forms.")
Here are the highlights: "99 percent of the ocean would be wide open," Chihuly says, claiming one whole percent of the entire ocean as his personal aesthetic playground. "If anything, Mother Nature should be suing Dale Chihuly," says Brian Rubino, one of the workers being sued. "If the first guy who painted Madonna and Child had tried to copyright it," says Rubino's lawyer, "half of the Louvre would be empty."
Where is the line between influence and infringement? I can think of many examples where a great, hulking presence has pioneered an art form and becomes both a pathfinder for generations and an oppressive shadow that limits the expansion of creativity: Ansel Adams, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, James Joyce come to mind. It's two sides of the same coin, because opening some doors closes, at least temporarily, other ones. This Dale Chihuly example is especially poignant because of the ridiculous nature of his claim: that he can own a part of oceanic design. If anyone, it's Gaudi who deserves that medal, certainly not Chihuly. The truth is, a lot of Chihuly's work is gorgeous, and incredibly innovative. People recoil at the factory nature of the production, but at its root, the stuff is incredible. He's extremely rich, extremely successful, and should be able to accept his globally-recognized influence as plenty of payment for this service. What more could he possibly need?
It's so intriguing how people have come to feel so differently about music than visual art, in this sense. Most people I talk to think Chihuly is compeletely loony, but hardly anyone out there would refute the need to copyright musical works so that parts dont get used here and there in other people's songs without compensation. I wonder though, is it any sillier to try and copyright a melody than a sea anemone?