In recent news, major high-street fashion retailer Zara has been caught stealing independent artists’ designs and using them, without permission, to adorn their latest clothing lines. In the particularly scandalous case of Tuesday Bassen, who confronted Zara about stealing her artwork, their response was simply, ‘the lack of distinctiveness of your […] purported designs makes it very hard to see how a significant part of the population anywhere in the world would associate the signs with Tuesday Bassen’. It is easy to see how disheartening such attitudes are to artists like Tuesday, who strive to make a living from creative work. The worst thing is that this is happening to hundreds of artists, as is pointed out on websites such as http://www.shoparttheft.com/. Here designs and their hardly altered imitations can be seen alongside each other, in addition to links to where the artist’s original designs can be purchased officially.
Supporting up-and-coming artists in their latest endeavours is so important in ensuring big brands like Zara are held accountable for their systematic stealing; and that the rightful artists are recognised and compensated. Bassen’s fellow artist and friend, Adam Kurtz, who has been similarly ‘ripped-off’, spoke to The Guardian about repeat offences;
“When you’re doing this on nights and weekends or you’re trying to make this full-time creative thing work – which is a huge scary risk – it’s extremely disheartening […] it tells us that our work is worth nothing.”
Taking Adam’s point, I feel there is a much broader discussion that needs to be had on the common and widespread exploitation of people’s work in the creative arts. For example, why is it that aspiring writers, journalists, designers, photographers, musicians and artists are expected to provide free work – often for large companies that could afford to pay for it? Large broadcasting companies for example, provide unpaid internships for young people looking for careers in television and journalism.
This only upholds the elitism prevalent in these industries, as it effectively communicates that you are no one until you are published or recognised; that it is who you know, not what you know. As a result, working-class students that need experience in such an industry in order to obtain a career from it, are squeezed out. In turn, the wealthier students who can afford to do free experience, as they are less reliant on income from a part-time job after graduating, will prevail.
On writing, Jonathan Tasini of The Guardian explains,
‘No coal miner, nurse, shipyard worker, accountant, or any other person with bills to pay works for free. But, that is what writers are often being forced to do. And the consequences for creativity and democracy are dire.’ However, it is not just writers. Musicians I have spoken to have often expressed similar frustrations, being expected to play gigs or functions for free, in return for ‘exposure’; as if this were an excusable compensation for their efforts. In reality, such situations only serve to benefit the venue or organiser who receives free entertainment, with no repercussions.
It is the same egotistic logic displayed by Zara in their response to Bassen; that they were doing her a ‘favour’ by using her designs, as hardly a ‘significant part of the population anywhere in the world would associate the signs with Tuesday’. It is again this idea that you are no one until you have the recognition of a big name, like Zara, exploiting your work.
But is this a vicious cycle? Selena Rezvani’s piece, ‘People Don’t Respect Free Work, So Charge Them for it’, suggests that the expectation to work for free, devalues the work. However, it is often near-impossible to advance in a career such as journalism without prior (usually unpaid) experience; hence any form of socialist boycotting would only serve to damage those looking for prospective arts careers. In a capitalist system, this is made ever more problematic. The values placed on the arts are often cynical and greedy in nature, – ‘what can the arts do for the economy?’ Hence value is based on how much something is or isn’t worth.
As a student of the arts this can be infuriating. Comedian Stewart Lee, English Literature graduate of Oxford argues,
‘the withdrawal of the grant, and the implication of students loans, necessarily limits people that want vocational careers, and produces a generation of people who feel that the only purpose of education is to earn money. […] I think it was done deliberately […] to rid us of all these troublesome thinkers and artists.’
In times like ours, it is ever important for young, creative individuals to persist.
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