Pay Attention, Artists (This means YOU)! WHY Arts Advocacy

Most of my potter friends all think I’m wasting my time on a fool’s errand when I talk about issues in the arts field. Maybe some of it is sort of interesting in a tangential barely relevant sort of way. Most working potters don’t seem to be bothered by larger issues as long as they get to hunker back down in their studios and make the work they want to make or think they can sell. What happens to other working artists seems a distant concern. The arts community is there when we need it, for asking favors or getting answers to technical questions, but there is no real sense of an ecology or the urgency of a shared community where what effects one person impacts the rest of us. We are so focused on our own process and way of life that we barely have time to reach beyond our own concerns of the moment: Fixing kilns, building studios, repairing wheels and other equipment, solving glaze chemistry issues, figuring out firing schedules, working on techniques, photographing our work, uncovering new markets, managing our art practice as part of a life that includes family, responsibilities, and frequently other employment as well…….

Because we so often operate on the fringes on our own we are less secure within the industry that shares our interests. Individual artists are routinely divided and conquered by those in positions to promote us or hold us back. Galleries often act as though they are doing US a favor by showing our work. Its not usually suggested that the only way they get paid is on the sweat and tears of working artists. The artists are mostly treated as second class citizens of an industry that only exists because of the hard work and genius that individual artists supply. Too often the professional organizations at the top of the food chain operate with perplexing callousness and endemic exploitation of working individual artists. Not always. But enough that the practice seems condoned by its commonplace regularity….

Last post I suggested that there was a downside to the morality of ‘seizing’. “Seize the day!” sounds all well and good until the people around you notice that you have seized their goods and burned all the bridges to tomorrow. The morality of seizing is the morality of pirates……

So just this morning I came across an example that made it real in my mind, and it was an excellent example of why I care about advocating for the arts. I’m looking out for the little guy. I’m going to bat for my fellow artists…. Here’s what I saw:

This is an actual promotional blurb, using my friend Brandon Phillips' image of his kiln in Texas and his own pots, to advertise a workshop in New Hampshire that has nothing to do with him. Not only was the image used without his consultation, but no attribution was made that these were HIS pots and kiln.....

This is an actual promotional blurb, using my friend Brandon Phillips’ image of his kiln in Texas and his own pots, to advertise a workshop in New Hampshire that has nothing to do with him. Not only was the image used without his consultation, but no attribution was made that these were HIS pots and kiln…..

Brandon discovered the appropriation and brought it up on facebook. Here’s a link to one of the webpages where the image is featured:

One of the reasons I like facebook is that folks can easily share what’s on their mind. One of the reasons I despise it is that it makes interaction a glib moaning or consoling for this or that tribulation, offers up the dubious wisdom of poorly considered opinions, but seldom goes further. Maybe sometimes it does. But the reason I am motivated to be an arts activist is that I want to do something about issues I feel are worth doing something about. I do my share of moaning, I do more than my own share of ignorant pontificating, but I also attempt to get others involved and actually work toward examining (if not always solving) issues…..

So I wrote the Sharon arts center this email. It has only been a few hours, but I will post their response if and when I get it. There seems no other easy way to hold folks accountable when the consequences for seizing are blown off or taken for granted….

The email:



It came to the attention of the artist whose kiln and whose work are being displayed in the image you are using for your ‘clayfest’ publicity that his image is being used without his prior knowledge or approval, and also that there is no credit given that the image is of his work and his kiln.

I’m not writing on his behalf, but I suggest you get in touch with him and straighten this matter out, if you are so inclined. His name is Brandon Phillips in case that somehow got lost in appropriating his image, and you can reach him at:

brandon@            .com

For my own clarification I’d like to know exactly what the ethics are your organization subscribes to. If this uncredited unauthorized appropriation was a mistake or an aberration, I can understand that everyone makes mistakes, and I hope you will make it right with Brandon. If this reflects your policy, that a kiln in Texas can be used to advertise your projects in New Hampshire without proper identification or attribution, then I guess I have learned something new about the way things work at a certain level of professionalism.

Most potters are generous folks and most believe that courtesy goes a long way. Perhaps artists in general…. I think many potters would have been delighted to have been asked for permission to use their images. I’m just not sure how the community of artists benefit from an attitude where unauthorized appropriation is the way things work or that seeking forgiveness is preferable to asking permission. Artists are already hard done by, and the system and many arts institutions already take merciless advantage of individual artists…. I’d just like to know where your organization stands. Do you support the efforts and rights of individual artists? Are you there for them? Or are artists simply there for organizations like yours to use….? I’d like to think we are all in this together and that the creative community is there for the welfare of all. I hope I’m not being naive or idealistic……


Carter Gillies
Potter and arts educator


If this issue strikes you as something in need of a closer look, or if it upsets you, perhaps you are an arts advocate and you just don’t realize it. Perhaps your sense of community includes outrage when one of our fellows is taken unfair advantage of…..

What do you think?

Peace all!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Creative industry, Creativity, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Pay Attention, Artists (This means YOU)! WHY Arts Advocacy

  1. Terri says:

    That picture seems to have come from the October 25th, 2011 post by Brandon; it is cropped and ‘squeezed’ a bit.
    I am going to contact the Sharon arts center to also voice my disappointment that they did not give Brandon credit of any kind. You would think that an arts center would know better, but apparently not.

    • Thanks for chiming in Terri,

      According to the response from Keri in the comments here the appropriation was a mistake and not an example of the kind of organization they are. I would like to believe that they are really some of the good guys. But even Angels can get careless, and the more we recognize that we are all in this together the fewer of those kinds of mistakes will happen. At the very least, this is a conversation we seem to need to be having,,,,,

      Thanks again for being interested in supporting your fellow artist!

  2. gazooza says:

    We should start a betting pool for how long it will take for you or BP to get a reply from them, and whether it will have any substance. I’d set the over/under at: “3 days” and “No”.

    • Turns out you lose that bet! Keri below clocks in at less than 3 hours after you.

      I must say I’m relieved that this issue is getting thought of seriously. And it only helps that the people involved in these organizations sometimes are artists themselves or are connected to them in their own personal relationships, as is Keri. There is at least a probable pathway to understanding the needs and disadvantages of individual artists if what an artist goes through makes some personal sense. The key, as always, is that we learn to think of ourselves as a community that IS affected anytime one of our members is slighted or abused. If we all learn to stand up together we won’t be fending just for ourselves when the giant boot heel of the often insensitive establishment industry comes crashing down…..

      • Scott Cooper says:

        I lose all my bets, but especially the fake ones I make up just to give you something to bump up against. I’ll be the Diogenes to your Wittgenstein, if that works for you.

        More seriously, I agree with what you said above. And it’s both interesting and encouraging to me that the new medium that makes this kind of theft/appropriation/honest mistake possible — the web — also allows for such a broad dissemination of the info, and a rapid resolution like this.

        It’s a lot easier to be united when we have the best communication tools in history at our fingertips.

  3. Keri Wiederspahn says:

    Arts Advocacy is a broad term going from the minutia of inherent details we deal with on a day-to-day basis to the broad spectrum of needs and the cry to action in our seemingly never-ending struggle to move away from the notion of artist as second-class citizen. May I suggest that we err on the side of grace that allows the freedom of recognizing mistake and owning up to it?
    This example above of “perplexing callousness” and “endemic exploitation” of artists is something I know well. My husband is a film-maker (of indie outside-the-mainstream variety) who has had the issue of piracy hit his/our livelihood directly with people streaming his art off various channels on the internet to the tune of thousands of views. He makes a feature film and makes nothing in return–and if any one makes a dime it is the distribution company, not the artist, not the creator. This is wrong. I hope this will change in the future.
    Perhaps the philosophical underpinning to WHY ARTS ADVOCACY has to be solid with understanding and respect of efforts and rights of individual artists.
    “The morality of seizing is the morality of pirates”
    I am a pirate–and out of your bringing to light the detail of the work of one of our volunteers who designed the card above, I can apologize for the assuming that (as I was told) the photo was from a pool of our in-house photos–(it certainly looked like one of our kiln shots!). Honest mistakes can be made. Sometimes organizations are not always the bad guy out to screw the artist. No blowing this one off–this hits a nerve for me, and I hope not to experience the feeling of being “the exploiter” again.
    So in terms of ethics, I hope this clears the grime. Appropriation of image is a growing problem and a bigger topic if heading to corrals like Google and Facebook… How to protect? How to find justice?
    I’m not sure.
    Can we work as artists in a decent society that honors the efforts of the creators of beauty?
    I hope so–I’m looking to find that realm of decent & appropriate answers someday.
    Bread on the table alone is ample struggle. Thanks for the wake-up call.

    And I hope this deepens the conversation.

    • Thanks for responding Keri.

      I absolutely agree on a personal level that we should err on the side of grace and forgiveness. Personally there are few things that motivate me as much as kindness and compassion, and this naturally extends to allowing forgiveness to people’s mistakes. I know my own fallibility all too well, so it would only be the height of arrogance to hold others to a standard that I myself had no hopes of aspiring to…..

      That said, we do need to hold ourselves to standards that are better than we already are. We need to aim for more than we already achieve. Its not good enough to simply accept that I am flawed, you are flawed, and let the world play itself out by those rules. So while forgiveness is important, its also important to make things right when we do err. The world needs forgiveness but it also needs taking responsibility for our actions and trying to do a better job next time. And trying to put things right when we have messed up. Learning from our mistakes rather than simply repeating them on the treadmill of accepting and forgiving our flaws…. The only way to interrupt the cycle of permissive behavior is to feel the real consequence of our mistakes.

      And so I am at least mollified that you and the organization you represent are ‘recognizing and owning up to’ the mistaken appropriation of Brandon’s image. Your ‘apology’ on this blog has to be taken as sincere. I certainly hope it gets expressed to Brandon personally, but I’ll leave that between you and him. And I agree that it would be a mistake to ‘blow this off’. Getting our culture to take seriously ‘artists in a decent society that honors the efforts of the creators of beauty’ is an issue I find myself increasingly engaged by. It sounds like you are as well.

      It has been my impression that piracy thrives the less people self-identify as creators themselves. The better we understand our own contributions of creativity the easier it is to respect that of others. Not that this guarantees an end to piracy, but we can see that the attitude of pirates is itself a form of disrespect, and that this disrespect hinges on a lack of personal appreciation for the efforts and merits of personal creativity and responsibility for one’s own creative efforts.

      The actions of pirates are to take without earning. The actions of artists are to leave something behind that was only earned by their own sweat and tears. Its more an act of giving in this sense. Pirates aren’t building for the future. The legacy of pirates is only the scorched earth of their own consumption and pillaging. The legacy of artists is to leave something behind that has value in and of itself. And so, if more people self-identified as artists, it stands to reason that more people’s morality would be informed by ecological and community concerns than pure self interest…….

      Something to think about, at least….

      Thanks for responding, and thanks for your thoughts.

      Good luck in all your future artistic endeavors.

  4. Pingback: Art Donations: The exposure you get is that you are willing to work for free | CARTER GILLIES POTTERY

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