Clive Thompson has a blog post about how he took a photo at a Canadian art gallery of his son staring at a painting, after noticing how similar some paintings from a hundred years ago were to some modern paintings done by a friend -- and recognizing that both were actually inspired by a third school of art. He notes that he was able to appreciate the old paintings much more (despite having seen them years ago) because of his understanding of his friend's more recent paintings. And immediately after snapping the photo, he got in trouble for it
, as the museum said it had to block photographs for copyright reasons. As Thompson explains:
It reminded me of a point often made by folks who fight overly-aggressive copyright laws: All new art is based on art that came before, so copyright law ought not to be too rigid. If you can't remix and resample and re-use art -- after a reasonable term of exclusivity for the original creators, who in this case are long dead -- then culture dies. More subtly yet, our appreciation for earlier art dies if our contemporary artists cannot easily plunder the styles and content of their forebears.
The irony here is that the instant after I snapped this picture, the security guards of the Art Gallery of Ontario raced over to (politely) warn me that I wasn't allowed to take pictures. Why? Well, some art galleries disallow photos because flashes can damage paintings, a prohibition that makes total sense. But my iPhone doesn't have a flash. No, the Art Gallery of Ontario prohibits photographs of artwork because of copyright restrictions.... It's even more daft when you consider that I'm basically doing free promotion here.You want people to visit galleries? Well, surely one good way is to let visitors take and post photos of their little kids spellbound by major works of art.
Many copyright defenders continue to insist that nothing is "lost" by stricter copyright rules, but you can't always quantify what never happens -- and Thompson does a good job showing how overly restrictive rules can, in fact, limit how we learn or appreciate art, by flat out limiting new ways that people can get exposed to works.