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when drawing art is outlawed, only outlaws will draw art

Post #287 • May 28, 2004, 7:44 AM • 9 Comments

Peter Goddard for the Toronto Star:

On Saturday, Jason Witalis was happily sketching an ancient head at the Eternal Egypt exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum. It would help him remember what he'd seen, he says. "I get more out of it."

Then a ROM guard came up and stopped him flat.

Busted. The 29-year-old Toronto intern architect was nabbed by the ROM no-sketching police, caught red-handed with his crudely drawn outline of Mentuhotep II, founder of ancient Egypt's Middle Kingdom, in his hot little hand.

A no-sketching-allowed policy is part of "the negotiated contract with the British Museum," Witalis was told.

All 144 pieces in the touring show come from the London museum's enormous collection of Egyptian artefacts, the biggest the side of Cairo.

Why can't he draw at the museum? Nobody refuted Witalis's theory:

"Basically, you [museum] guys just want to be able to move people faster through the museum so you can get more money," he went on. "To me that's a fundamentally wrong approach to running a museum."

The implications were not lost on Goddard:

...forbidding sketches being made at art institutions seems like the height of lunacy. Haven't generations of artists over hundreds of years learned from copying the shape and line from the masterpieces on museum walls?

Yes. I draw in every museum I visit. And God help anyone who tells me I can't. I've gotten physical with a museum guard over this. I know I was just quoting a Buddhist sutra, but this nonsense really ticks me off.

Ever since I was a student in Rome, at the encouragement of my teachers, I've been drawing art in the museums. It's how I figured out what art looks like. It's how I got over the unpleasantness of art history classes, which stank even at RISD, and communed with my ancestors. Drawing art formed me. And over the years it has sometimes happened that some knucklehead working at the museum decided that I've been looking too long, or that I needed some kind of special permission to do anything besides breeze by the art at a clip. These people are toads. And now they're getting armed with vague legal justifications:

At times, a travelling show is decreed a no-sketch zone because of worries of art-theft, says a spokesperson for the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Sketching art puts it at risk of theft? I would love for someone to explain this to me, because I have no idea how.

The AGO has "no problem" with sketches being made of its permanent collection. "But we often have contractual agreements with lenders who do not wish images of their works circulated," she says.

If I were in Toronto, I would get every artist in town I could to go down to the ROM, sit down in the British Museum exhibition, and draw. Call it a Draw-In. The fact that the British Museum is willing to cut off this ancient method of learning for the sake of its intellectual property rights, or whatever this is about, is vile. It is anti-art. It is vandalism against our tradition.

(Via ArtsJournal, the CNN of the art world.)




May 28, 2004, 3:11 PM

i think a more punitive reaction is called for. i would suggest that a group of artists with digital cameras be organized to sneak them in, shoot the pieces in the show, and put them up on a web site. then anyone can sketch, and it'll teach those british assholes.

nothing like following up hundreds of years of tyrannical, barbaric colonialism with unreasonable treatment of stolen artifacts.



May 28, 2004, 3:20 PM

Yeah, right? How did they "acquire" these objects in the first place?


mary agnes

May 29, 2004, 5:21 AM

Right on dude! Please help people learn about drawing by encouraging them to draw on the masters! Contemporary art needs good drawing! As a museum person I have hosted many traveling shows including ones from the big guys and not one of those contracts said no drawing. That is a new one on me! :)



May 30, 2004, 2:48 AM

I am in Toronto, and I was discussing your proposal for a draw-in yesterday evening. As my friend pointed out, the ROM has to honour the British Museums request or they would in effect break their contract and wouldn't recieve touring shows anymore. A draw-in at the British Museum would be more appropriate.



May 30, 2004, 6:50 AM

Timothy, a Draw-In would put the ROM into quite an unpleasant situation, wouldn't it? That's why it should be done. The ROM agreed to the no-drawing stipulation in its contract with the British Museum. Maybe an unpleasant situation at the ROM, staged by artists, would inspire its staff to more respectful treatment of its art community.

Do we know for a fact that the no-sketching policy applies to the British Museum? I tried to find out and I didn't have any luck. Maybe it only applies to traveling shows.



May 30, 2004, 8:44 PM

Damn, you're beautiful when you're angry. "These people are toads." Yeah, baby! I don't know if the Phoenix Art Museum has a no-drawing policy, but they do have a very-little-seating policy. Can't zip you through otherwise. I mean, how long do you need to look at a work of art, buddy? Knuckleheads. Great piece, man.

Stand up, start rockin' the boat.




May 30, 2004, 10:50 PM

Well, in keeping with the Buddhist spirit of the previous post one could refer back to yet another previous post (Art is a good investment) in which this paragraph appears as introduction to an ArtsJournal piece:

"It doesn't matter whether this is true or not. If people think it's true, they'll buy more art. Spread the word, fellow artists: art is a good financial investment!"

One could ask: what consequenses might there be of "lifting" art from its place in reality, detaching it from its natural ability to simply be... confining it by applying fictional rules of market, and shares, and interest - ultimately distancing it (and the artist with it) from the beautiful and simple action of creation in the here and now?

- and one could suggest the following: the guard at the museum and the artist whose piece is exhibited, the artist wishing to draw what he sees and the one who is outraged and wishes to fight back against the villains behind this prohibitive contract - they are all one and the same. We are all part of the reason as well as part of the solution.



May 31, 2004, 1:47 AM

Needless to say, this preposterous arrangement is not only unacceptable but contemptible. If the British Museum insisted on such terms, the Ontario people should have refused on principle (yes, I know; I'm probably dreaming). If I were a member of the ROM, I would cancel my membership in protest and refuse to renew unless the museum pledged never to allow such nonsense again. I hope the people in Ontario interested in the arts do something concrete to leave no doubt that this sort of thing will not be tolerated. It's an utter embarrassment.



June 2, 2004, 9:27 PM

The very idea of authorship (or intellectual property) is a recent cultural treaty that would have had the original creators of that Egyptian art scratching their pointy bifurcated ghotees in astonishment . . . . But artists have been exploited and dimished for centuries, and it's only when the big commercial players step in to stop it that the individual artist gets a little more power for himself. Conceptual artists' practice of appropriation has influenced this arena by making other artists feel that they have a right to steal, goddamit!



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