Droit de Suite, reprise
Mike Johnston, the proprietor of The Online Photographer, weighs in on the Droit de Suite issue, in the context of the reported 2.1 million dollar sale of a Cindy Sherman print. Mike writes:
The main problem with Paul’s capitalistic critique is that the artwork increases in value not entirely because of what it is, but because of who the artist is, what her significance is, the publicity she engaged in, the awards she won, and everything else she accomplished and achieved in the meantime. In other words, Cindy Sherman herself has added to the value of her 1981 photograph since 1981, even though she hasn’t had possession of it. Art isn’t strictly a commodity, with just material commodity value and no other kind of existence. (Artists themselves “comment” on this fact all the time, for instance when Andy Warhol signed blank sheets of paper and sold them for $5,000 each.)
Mike raises what at first blush seems to be a persuasive argument, because the artist does affect the future value of a work after it’s been sold.
But art is not the only thing on the planet that exhibits the effect of having the value increase (or decrease) as a result of the behavior of the original seller. If you bought furniture made by Sam Maloof, or Thomas Moser, that furniture has increased in value as the reputations of Maloof or Moser grew. If you bought stock in an initial public offering, the value of the stock grew or diminished in part because of the efforts of the people who sold the stock – indeed, that’s the very reason for buying stocks. Other things that exhibit this effect and are sometimes sold for prices that are large relative to the initial purchase price: first editions of books, original manuscripts of books whose authors become famous, autographs of celebrities, houses designed by architects who later become famous, automobiles built/designed by people who later built a successful brand identity (think Shelby), autos built by companies which went bust (think DeLorean), personal correspondence of someone who achieves great fame – the list is endless.
A builder who builds a reputation as someone who builds houses of extraordinary quality increases the value of the houses he’s built and sold in the past. A horse trainer who buys a promising colt, sells shares in the horse to defray the cost, and then trains the colt to be a winner increases the value of every share she sold.
Everyone, everywhere, is going through life, achieving things and failing at things, and affecting the value of things they don’t own. In many cases, they affect the value of things they once owned and then sold.
But artists feel that they’re special, and that (unlike everyone else) they deserve to share in any increase (but never in any decrease) in value of an object they’ve sold lock, stock, and barrel. Everyone who sells something that’s later resold for a much higher price experiences regret. Only artists, however, feel that the government should intercede to diminish their regret by using coercion to ensure them a share in future profits without forcing them to share in the losses as well.