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Blog of Robert Davis Hoffmann on TlingitArt.com

My Native Art: Regarding Obligations and Social Pressures

Nonconformity
Native Art and Social Pressure

A few years back, a friend of mine proposed that native artists have a responsibility to give back to the art. His belief was that our cultural art form was not ours to begin with. He argued that it belongs to our ancestors. He insisted that we are borrowing the art, so we need to repay. His idea for repayment was specific: we should donate our native art for public places.

I took a position against his proposal almost immediately, with opinions of my own:

The artwork created using traditional art form(s) is the product of the individual. An artist owns his own work.Native artists have few limitations or obligations.There are no overlordsArtists already "pay back" in many ways.An Artist Owns His Own Work

Using my own artwork as an example, I said that my ideas originate in my own mind. My finished works belong to me because I created them. My friend persisted with his argument that the art form came from our ancestors, so I don't own my work.

I recognize that our art comes from generations before. But even long ago, great artists got paid for their work. In effect, a transaction was necessary to complete proper ownership. A ceremony then increased the value and it put that art in clan ownership. The implication is that ownership transferred from the artist.

I can copyright my artwork if I need to protect it from unauthorized reproduction. An individual may claim ownership of his or her art as property.

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