What Do Legal Matters Have to Do with My Art?

“My life has been a chorus of ‘How can you call that art?’” – Carl Andre

“I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist” – Andy Warhol

Action in the legal sphere may appear to be an anomaly for the artist involved with creative work. Perhaps, as Carl Andre suggests, the artist should seek to withdraw from the art world and the dangers of success. Yet the artist seeking to earn his or her living from an art career must focus on art as commerce, what Andy Warhol calls being “a business artist.”

All artists, whether they agree with Carl Andre or Andy Warhol, must be capable of resolving business and legal issues. In this respect, a greater familiarity with art law and other sources of support will help the helpless, or victimized. Legal and business considerations exist from the moment an artist conceives a work or receives an assignment. While no handbook can solve the unique problems of each artist, the artist’s increased awareness of the general legal issues pertaining to art will aid in avoiding risks and gaining benefits that might otherwise pass unnoticed.

This has been adapted from  Legal Guide for the Visual Artist, 5th edition.

Money is the Symbol, not the Source

The relationship between money, which is outer richness, and soul, which is inner richness, can easily confuse us. The Bible frequently delves into this paradox which has always been so much a part of all of our lives.  For example, as Jesus Christ starts for Jerusalem he is approached by a wealthy man who asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus tells him to observe the Commandments, but the man says he has observed them from his youth.  Then Jesus says, “sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  But the man has great wealth and departs in sorrow.  Of all those whom Jesus specifically invited to follow him, only this wealthy man refused.

Jesus then observes that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  So the largest beast in Judea can more easily pass through the smallest opening than a rich man discover the wealth of his inner life.  Why should this be so?

The problem is easy to state but not so easy to understand or resolve in our daily lives.  Because money has its origins in exchanges with the divine, it lends itself to the belief that it is the source of well-being and abundance.  In this way, money appears to be the divine source.  Thinking this way makes us worship money rather than the richness within ourselves.


This excerpt is from The Secret Life of Money: How Money Can Be Food for the Soul

On Editing and Letting Go

Editing is a fascinating process. My novel-in-progress has evolved from what I originally conceived. As that inevitable evolution occurs, passages that might be well-written no longer work and have to be edited out (or abandoned, which is how I sometimes feel to let go of a passage I like)

My narrator, Thea, is an analyst who has gone on a lengthy retreat to a healing center in the Adirondacks. Andreas, the director of this center, was once a teacher of hers when she studied to be an analyst. Thinking how similar emotional wounds may lead to very different outcomes, she says:

It called to mind the seminar on archetypes that he had taught. Achilles, dangled by his goddess mother in the fire of immortality, would always be vulnerable in the heel untouched by the flames. The soldier Philoctetes endured a snake bite on his foot that gave a stench so horrible the Greek armies abandoned him on the island of Lemnos as they journeyed to besiege the high walls of Troy. But, although both warriors were wounded in a foot, their stories couldn’t have been more different. Achilles died from the bowshot of Paris. Philoctetes, on the other hand, was rescued by his comrades, cured, and showed his valor in the climactic fall of Troy.

Why does this have to be cut? To me the passage feels expository, obscure, and abstract. Beyond this, the course of the novel changed after this passage was written. It no longer served well to explain Andreas, his history and his concerns.

One challenge of writing is to abandon not only passages, but the sentiment that makes me want to stay attached to what I’ve written. Instead, I value the imaginative provocations that rigorously shape and reshape fiction.

Ulysses and Neoptolemus Taking Hercules’ Arrows from Philoctetes by François-Xavier Fabre

The Magic of Credit Cards

The Money Mentor: A Tale of Finding Financial Freedom

The following excerpt is from The Money Mentor: A Tale of Finding Financial Freedom


Iris Cassidy, a dancer in her 20s, uses a maxed out credit card on a visit to her dentist who then tells her:

“As P. T. Barnum said, ‘There’s a sucker born every minute.’ Open wide. In fact, many people who pay interest on their credit cards think they don’t. They deny the reality of what’s going on. Or maybe they plan to pay it off, so they hope that soon they won’t be paying more interest. Or they know they pay some interest, but don’t realize how high the rates are. After all, where in our educational system are the most basic aspects of personal finance taught? Nowhere, so rather than saying people are foolish, maybe we should say we have a foolish educational system. If we don’t teach about the problems, we certainly can’t teach about the solutions to those problems.”

I was feeling pretty bad at this point, not just from the pain in my mouth but also from the idea that I was a fool who paid a lot more interest than I ever imagined–especially since I’d never given it one thought, much less a second thought–and, worst of all, that I saw no way out of it. In fact, I wasn’t really sure what I owed. I knew roughly what my minimum payments on all of the cards totaled each month, but I had never thought to add up the principal. Or maybe I had thought of it but didn’t want to know.

“I’ll tell you something else about credit cards,” he went on, “People spend a lot more money using credit cards than using cash. It’s crazy, because after all our money is worthless paper. If you take a Federal Reserve Note to be exchanged, they’ll give you another Federal Reserve Note–not gold and silver the way they used to. So it’s our trust that makes the money have value, our willingness to accept it. But we’re more reluctant to part with paper money than we are to run up a tab on a credit card. Maybe the fact you get the credit card back, but not the money, makes some difference. I don’t pretend to be a psychologist, but it’s another reason why using credit cards can be so risky. Not only are you going into debt, but you’re going into debt faster than if you didn’t use the credit cards. It makes me wonder what will happen when we’re all buying stuff on the Internet, using invisible digital money. I’ll bet people spend a lot more that way than they would if they had to hand over real money.”

A Tribute to Nicole Potter

On January 18, 2014, I attended a memorial service for Nicole Potter (August 25, 1954-November 18, 2013) who helped me with Allworth Press from its founding in 1989 and served as Senior Editor for ten years through 2007.

The service took place at the Irondale Ensemble in Brooklyn where Mark Talling, Nicole’s husband, and Daniel Potter, Nicole’s brother, opened this life celebration.

Mark said, “We loved plays of course, and saw dozens. We also patrolled parks, zoos, museums, bookstores. Visiting the farmer’s market was a source of excitement and delight, and we came to love Chinatown.” Daniel recalled her “honesty—her raw, clear, brave insight—was sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, always brilliant.”

Her aunt, uncles, and cousins all recalled her from her early life growing up in PleasantValley with her close-knit family to her profound love of theater. Her colleagues at Irondale Ensemble, where Nicole acted for more than a decade and later returned as Education Director, recalled her as talented, passionate, indefatigable, and ever so intensely alive. Multi-talented, she excelled not only as an actor but also as a director and choreographer.

As friend after friend spoke of Nicole, certain themes repeated—she lived with intensity, honesty, bravery, commitment, concern for others. As her husband Mark said, “When she got sick [with stomach cancer], she apologized to me. And then she fought it bravely and with a surprising stoicism.”

I spoke of Nicole’s role as an editor at Allworth Press. Often, when she believed a manuscript should be published, she would become its passionate advocate. She could take a book apart and save its life when it came back together again. She could just as excellently edit line by line. She engaged her authors and helped every book that she touched be better.

Nicole’s passions included politics and cooking. And she had a great sense of humor. One of the shared stories recounted how her main course at a restaurant came with pieces piled up in a tower with a flourish on the top. “I ordered fish, not architecture,” Nicole observed to her dinner companion.

The celebration of her life ended with everyone singing Fire and Rain by James Taylor and then Let It Be by the Beatles.

Her brother Daniel captured the irrevocable sorrow of his and our loss when he said, “I guess it is normal, typical, after a loved one dies, to have dreams that they are not really gone, that the report or observation of death was a mistake, a misunderstanding, a mis-diagnosis, or itself a dream . . . . I had such a dream just the other night. I was there, at Niki and Mark’s apartment in Bridgeport, and so was she—yes, she had been in a deep sleep that bright November day, but she had woken up, and here she was, her strong, vibrant self—and we were together, looking at each other, holding each other, crying, laughing, and remembering.”

Resale Royalties for Artists?


Artists creating original artwork don’t benefit from the copyright law in the same way that authors and composers do. The artists tend not to sell copies of their works, so they only receive payment on the sale of the original work. On the other hand, authors and composers gain from the sales of copies of what they’ve created.

Many nations, starting with France in 1920, tried to balance this by giving artists a right to part of the proceeds when art was resold (subject to various restrictions). Many nations have now enacted such laws. In 1977, California enacted a resale proceeds law, but that law was at least partially struck down in a recent case holding that California cannot regulate transactions without a sufficient connection to that state. Artists advocates are appealing that decision.

Congress, pursuant to the Commerce Clause, would be able to regulate such sales. Supporters of a resale proceeds act have moved forward with their efforts to enact a national law. The Copyright Office stated on December 13, 2013:

“The U.S. Copyright Office today publicly released a report on the issue of resale royalties for visual artists, or the ‘droit de suite.’ The report was requested by Congressman Jerrold Nadler and Senator Herb Kohl in 2012, and is an adjunct to the Office’s 1992 report on the same topic. Some seventy countries have enacted resale royalty provisions in their laws, over thirty of them since 1992, including the United Kingdom, which is home to one of the world’s most significant art markets.

“The Copyright Office has concluded that certain visual artists may operate at a disadvantage under the copyright law relative to authors of other types of creative works. Contrary to its 1992 report, the Office is supportive of further congressional exploration of a resale royalty at this time. It also supports exploration of alternative or complementary options that may take into account the broader context of art industry norms and art market practices, for example, voluntary initiatives or best practices for transactions and financial provisions involving artworks. The report reflects the diversity of public comments received by the Office over the past year, and makes a number of observations and recommendations that Congress may wish to consider in its deliberations.”

The full report is available at http://www.copyright.gov/docs/resaleroyalty/usco-resaleroyalty.pdf.

Negotiating Book Contracts

This excerpt about negotiating book contracts comes from the newly released Fourth Edition of The Writer’s Legal Guide by Kay Murray and Tad Crawford. The excerpt, from Chapter 10, is brief in relation to the detailed advice offered in that chapter.

The short-term end product of a negotiation is the written contract embodying your agreement. The long-term result, of course, is your ongoing relationship with the other party over the course of the agreement – which, in a book publishing deal could last a lifetime, or even longer. When it comes to licensing the rights to your work, therefore, the stakes are high.

First, and foremost, remember that you must live with the contract you sign. Many written contracts state outright that the terms expressed in the agreement set forth the entirety of the parties’ intentions with respect to the subject matter of the agreement, and that no promises made during the negotiations will be enforced unless they appear in the final contract. Even if a contract does not contain such a “merger clause,” courts will interpret most contracts to provide the same thing. Keep in mind, therefore, that if any of your publisher’s promises are not set forth in your contract, they are worthless.

Most established book authors have literary agents who will negotiate the terms of book and other licenses on their clients’ behalf, but that does not make you a passive participant in the negotiation. Whether or not have you an agent, you should learn some basic negotiation rules. There is much literature covering the art and science of negotiating available, free online and in many books and journals. Take the time to review some of this advice before engaging in direct negotiations; it will prove a very good investment of your time. Although the advice below refers to book publishing contracts, it applies to any other deal you might negotiate, including with a literary agent, periodical publisher, self-publishing entity, or a collaborator.

To negotiate effectively, you must plan. The more you plan, gather information, and strategize, the better your chances of getting the best possible deal. Negotiation consists of trading concessions with the other side on the various terms of a transaction, and the better you understand and can rank both your own and the other side’s priorities, the better you will understand how to make and receive concessions that effectively satisfy both sides’ desires – the ideal outcome.

Magical Realism and A Floating Life

My novel, A Floating Life, has been described as bringing “South American magical realism to twenty-first century America.” Novels using magical realism have a realistic story but also incorporate magical elements that are not at all realistic. For example, in A Floating Life, the nameless narrator is separated from his wife and seeking a new job. His search for a new apartment is realistic enough, except that the real estate agent offers him a golden cage for an apartment in a building that is being constructed to a depth of fifty or a hundred floors beneath the earth. His interview for a new job is conducted by a chef with one eye in the center of his head. The chef stands seven feet tall and the interview is in the unbearable heat of a steam room.

These departures from an otherwise realistic (if unusual) story aren’t questioned by the narrator. It is typical in magical realism that the incorporation of magical elements is done without any explanation of the magic. The characters simply accept that the magic is part of the otherwise realistic world they inhabit. Such magical elements might include people who live far longer than a normal life span, levitation, telekinesis, telepathy, time travel, and similar devices that are woven without comment into the narrative. In this way magical realism distances itself from the scientific method, Cartesian logic, and the rational mindset that has lost contact with the mythic stories so much a heritage of the human race.

In A Floating Life the narrator finds a mentor, an elderly Dutchman named Pecheur who makes model boats and displays them in a shop called The Floating World. This shop lacks signage and can’t be found on the Internet. As the narrator considers becoming Pecheur’s apprentice, he is confronted by a dachshund who says, “I’ve brought the lawsuit against you for your own good.” Rather than not believing that a dog can talk, the narrator is upset by the thought of “painful hours of preparation and years passed in uncertainty.” Further on in the novel, Pecheur wants to travel to a volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean that is as far from civilization as can be imagined. Pecheur dies, but the narrator decides to go in his place. After this, in the middle of the night, four bears enter his apartment. The bears explain that by eating the narrator, he will become more like a bear and they will become more human. “But you’re bears!” the narrator responds. “Better to say that we’re not fully bears,” the largest bear replies, “and you’re not fully human.”

Magical realism lends itself to describing the human condition. So much that is true for us rests not on the logical realities of our life situation, but has as its foundation the larger myths and images familiar to humankind for untold generations. These are imaginative truths that transcend quotidian facts. When these myths and images come into our consciousness, we feel challenged. Our realistic world view isn’t sufficient to contain Odysseus entering the underworld, Perseus slaying snake-haired Medusa whose gaze turned men to stone, and the healing god Aesclepius restoring the dead to life. The dachshund’s lawsuit challenges the narrator’s narrow view of the world and his own potentialities. Later, in following his mentor’s quest, the narrator dies to what he once was. So he is devoured by the bears and yet continues his journey, his story.

Magical realism relies on both its realistic narrative and the fantastic departures that are magical. So it is easy to distinguish from realistic fiction that lacks the wondrous qualities of the magical. And also easy to distinguish from fantasy or science fiction that depends on the fantastic or otherworldly and lacks the realistic. It might be argued that the chapters in A Floating Life that present fantastical elements should actually be called surreal. This is because those parts of the book deal not with tangible or material reality but with the inner life and truths of the psyche. But I think the tent of magical realism is large enough to contain a man who gives birth or a goddess with the power to give life.

Magical realism is like a shape shifter. One moment it is real, the next magical. To create with the ability to move from the realistic to the magical is a marvelous and frightening freedom. It makes anything possible (as long as that anything works in the context of the fiction). So I approached A Floating Life with a willingness to take risks that required leaps of faith. Sometimes this resulted in writing that had to be cut from the final manuscript. But the risk-taking also allowed unexpected departures and delights that make accessible what may be new and therefore strange. As Kirkus Reviewsopined, “At times Crawford seems to be channeling Kafka or Borges . . . Odd. Offbeat. Strangely shimmering.”

Here are all the blogs who have posted on the Magic Realism Blog Hop: