Friday, 18 March 2011
My brother Nick Don reminded me in his latest personal blog of a poet, farmer, theologian, and social justice warrior named Wendell Berry that I admire. In reading some of Berry's work online I came across an excerpt from one of his works that reflected the way I view the work I pen/type. Wendell Berry writes,
I do have an interest in this book, which is for sale. (If you have bought it, dear reader, I thank you. If you have borrowed it, I honor your frugality. If you have stolen it, may it add to your confusion.) Most of the sale price pays the publisher for paper, ink, and other materials, for editorial advice, copyediting, design, advertising (I hope), and marketing. I get between 10 and 15 percent (depending on sales) for arranging the words on the pages.
As I understand it, I am being paid only for my work in arranging the words; my property is that arrangement. The thoughts in this book, on the contrary, are not mine. They came freely to me, and I give them freely away. I have no "intellectual property," and I think that all claimants to such property are thieves.
I too believe that an author has very little ownership over his work just as any artist has very little ownership over her work. This is not a stance that I think ought to necessarily be placed side by side with truth in the mind of any person or enforced upon any person but it is a view that I wish many others would share because I have come to find, thus far, that it is a view that frees a person from a self-constructed prison in which the individual feeds on the crumbs of man's praise and payment instead of God's approval and provision. Not only does such a view benefit the individual who holds the view and who produces the work but it benefits those in the surrounding community who receive the work. of the individual.
While the author and/or artist should always be given credit for their wonderful and talent drenched work of manipulating (in a positive way) what God has already given to man - for all one can do is manipulate and not truly create ex nihilo - in a way that educates and inspires the viewer/reader, the author and/or artist must admit that he/she does not "create" any of his/her work for the sake of hiding it in a drawer, under a bowl, or placing it in any location or fashion so that it may be hidden and of no use to anyone. The purpose of literature and various forms of art is to educate and inspire. All artistic work, which I believe all literature should be considered, is grounded in edification.
Therefore, if an artist/author can admit that he or she does not truly create but merely manipulates the sounds, colors, languages, truths, and beauty that surround the daily life of all beings then he/she must also admit that God is far more responsible for his/her work than he/she is (Deuteronomy 2:7, 8:17-18). I believe this is a biblical approach to production no matter the product. Not only can this be admitted but the author/artist must admit that he/se is not owed much for his/her manipulation. Creating communication is worthwhile. Arranging words to communicate a truth that is preexistent is worthwhile also. However, one is far superior to the other. I'm not saying that man's work is not worth strong wages simply because man can not do what God has done but rather that man is dependent on God not only for provisions of all kinds, be it money, food, shelter, or influence/power, but also for the ability to seize those provisions in whatever way he is able. In other words, man must not seek profit that keeps him from being dependent on The God Who Provides (Proverbs 30:8b-9), take ownership for what The God Who Creates has done, or entertain the idea that he is ever right to receive praise for more than what he has done.
All an author/artists can do is manipulate and compile in impressive fashion. This is worthy of both praise and reward but only to a reasonable degree. Berry calls the people who claim :intellectual property" thieves and rightfully so. As Berry points out, God has freely given to man and thus man ought to freely give what he has received. The scriptures that teach about the tithe and year of Jubilee should make this abundantly clear. The way Jesus teaches his followers to give should grind into our minds the truth that everything belongs to God and if he lay hold of it then the best way to worship, give thanks, and honor God is to share whatever we have laid hold of with those around us, especially if they are in need.
Others who may be worthy of the term thieves are the men/women who receive more praise or reward than is owed them for their mortal work. I would agree. Any artists/author who asks for more than what he/she needs is essentially a thief. If he/she is not a thief then at the very least he/she could be considered selfish and a hinderance on the edification of a community, which in turn makes his/her produce ironic. At such a point, the work of such a person changes from a blessing to a curse. Those who turn out curses can not be considered anything less than in cahoots with evil for they now kill, steal, and destroy. However, those who produce edifying works that continue to bless others and do not seek to receive more than they need for their work are a blessing and produce blessings for their communities. As Christ said, "Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit" (Matthew 7:17-18).
There is a great deal more to say on the subject of an artists ownership and reward and perhaps one day I will return to the subject to elaborate but I've run out of energy for now. Let me end by stating that it is the duty of every author/artists to glorify God, edify the people around them with their work. May all artists/authors be careful to bless and not curse by asking and accepting only for they need so they may continue being good trees that produce good fruit.
Do you often consider that what you claim ownership of really belongs to God? Does it come as a surprise to consider that artists really only manipulate what God has already created?