Response to Comments in the Arizona Daily Star on 1 SEP 07 and the Arizona Law Relating to the "Right of Publicity"

Comments on the Art Exhibition

What I am trying to do in my current art exhibition at Shane House Gallery has been described in an article in the Arizona Daily Star on September 1, 2007 as:

"…extremely offensive and callous…",

"…tasteless…",

"…totally reprehensible…",

"…beyond reprehensible…", and

"…using someone else's pain for your own personal gain…".

I think the people who say these things may not know what it is that I am trying to do. I want to express in my art and to convey to anyone who chooses to view it the sadness and pain I feel when I think about all the people killed and injured in this war. In the portraits of US soldiers and Iraqis killed I see people who were once alive, beautiful, happy, and whole, now dead and returned to dust and atoms. I wonder if they were afraid before they died. I think about the sadness, anger, pain and suffering of their parents, their brothers and sisters, their wives or husbands, their children and their friends. I wonder if the parents of suicide bombers cry when they hear what their children have done. I think about the fun and pleasures and joy and love and happiness with family and friends those killed will never again experience. I think about my own children. It makes me cry. And it makes me angry when I realize that this war did not have to happen. It makes me angry when I realize that we don't have to continue participating in it, but we probably will for many years to come.

So I do my art, make portraits of those killed, with the hope that some of the feelings I have, some of the beauty of those now gone, some of the sadness of their deaths, may come through this art to other people --- to anyone who chooses to look at it --- and maybe, just maybe, I hope, it might change somebody's mind about whether it's worth it to continue the war.

Nobody has to look at these portraits. Nobody has to buy one. All announcements of my exhibit clearly say what's in it.

I mean no disrespect to anyone. I am not trying to depict any particular persons in the portraits or make any judgments about them. I do not know the particular beliefs of any of them, and I don't know the names of most of them, and I do not claim to speak for them, and I don't claim they or their families or anyone else would agree with me. I wanted to start with real images of real people killed in this war to keep connected with the terrible reality of their real loss. I wanted some of the reality of these now dead people to live on, even if only as a fragment of an image, a relic of their lives. The few portraits I can make represent for me all those killed. These portraits are my memorials.

 

Comments in the AZ Daily Star Article

Now I want to say a little about those critical quotes above. What do they mean? What are their intended effects on me and others who read them? What are the speakers trying to do? When they say what I'm doing is "extremely offensive", it makes me feel bad, like I've done something wrong, like I deserve some punishment, like I've really hurt someone. When they call me "callous", they are trying to make me feel like I don't have any feelings, like I'm insensitive, like I don't care what other people feel or think, like I'm a zombie. When they say I'm "totally reprehensible", they are trying to make me feel like I deserve to be scolded and punished severely in every way. And "beyond reprehensible" is trying to make me feel like I'm so bad there is no hope for me no matter how much punishment I get, like I'm so bad there is nothing anyone can do to help me.

And one of the trickiest, when they say I'm "tasteless", they are trying to put me down, like I don't know what's the right thing to do, like I don't know what people expect me to do while I'm Oh so anxious to do what they want, like I'm using the wrong fork, like my clothes don't match, like I'm serving the wrong color wine with my fried chicken, like my house isn't decorated properly --- horror of horrors, I'd better go to K-Mart right away and buy some Martha Stewart stuff, --- like I'm kinda ignorant, like I'm not with the main group, like I'm an outsider, like I'm alone, cut off from the good people, I'm second class, crude, unrefined, hopeless and out of touch with what's really going on, like I don't belong, I'm being marginalized, I'm being separated from the herd.

Finally "…using someone else's pain for your own personal gain…": It's trying to make me feel like I'm deliberately trying to hurt people so I can get rich, like I'm a money grubber, like I should feel guilty if I make any money from this art, and thus they hope I might stop making this kind of art, like I'm someone who will do anything for money, someone with no conscience whatsoever, like I don't care about anyone but myself. It makes me feel low down, no good, worthless.

These are the feelings they are trying to instill in me and others who read their comments.

Notice that none of this is connected with what I'm trying to do with my art. It's all about me as a person. It's all a put down of me. It has nothing to do with my message except it's a crude but sometimes effective trick to get people to ignore the message, since according to the speakers, I'm such a crumb bum, I couldn't possibly have anything worthwhile to say, so you don't even have to bother to look at the portraits. This is of course an old trick: attack the person to turn people away from the message. In the old days when people spoke Latin, it was called an ad hominem argument.

 

Reply to the Comments

How can I answer these? If someone is offended by my art, I'm truly sad. If someone is offended because they disagree with my opinions or politics, that's sad, but no big deal. It's possible I may be just as offended by their opinions or politics. If someone has recently lost a loved one in the war, I truly sympathize, as best I can, not having gone through that surely awful experience myself. But if you are likely to experience sorrow or grief if you should see an image that might remind you of a person you have lost in the war, I ask you not to look at my portraits.

If I were callous, I wouldn't have started this project and I wouldn't be writing this. What led to this project was my imagining the fear, panic, despair, pain and suffering that some of those killed may have felt as they died, as well as the grief and suffering of their parents, children, husbands and wives, friends, brothers and sisters. Nobody wants to be callous. We all realize that any pain and suffering caused by our actions are real, are real costs of our actions, and should be taken into account, and minimized.

As far as "reprehensible", scold and criticize me if you want. That's your right. Anyone can do it if they want. There will always be disagreements about what we should do. People will disagree with me. I'm trying to make things better, as best I can figure out what that is. Aren't most of us trying to do that?

"…using someone else's pain for your own personal gain…". This is a truly nasty accusation. This one hurts. The profit of less than $100 I made by selling 9 prints the first day of the exhibit is not much considering all the hours I've spent making the art. Maybe I will make as much in the remainder of the exhibit. It's odd that many people are in favor of capitalism and free markets, but seem to think they should not apply to getting out antiwar messages. It's OK to make a profit selling movies, TV shows, video games, plays, books, magazines, and newspapers about the war, and use the names and images of those killed in the process, but not T shirts and art if the message is antiwar. A profit is OK for making and selling weapons of war whose only purpose is to kill or incapacitate people. It's OK for people to accept a $20,000 bonus to join the army so they can go to Iraq to possibly be killed and kill even more people. But apparently some people think it's some kind of horrible sin for me to make any money selling antiwar art containing remnants of images of the people killed in the war. It's OK to make money promoting, publicizing, glamorizing, glorifying, heroicizing, and sanctifying war, but it's not OK to make money criticizing war and pointing out the terrible costs of war in terms of human suffering and death. Is this what you call a double standard or what?

I think the phrase "…using someone else's pain for your own personal gain…" would apply better to presidential candidates and our elected representatives who customize their position on ending our involvement in the war so as to get the most votes rather than on their true opinion on the merits of the war. Everybody knows that most of them, in both parties, are doing exactly that, yet we all just accept it as politics. Do any of them have a conscience? Are there no statesmen?

Finally, dear ladies and gentlemen: Killing is tasteless.

 

The Arizona Law Regarding the "Right of Publicity".

It's odd how we complain that activist judges make up new rights out of nowhere, but when the politics are right, as in Arizona recently, most of the state legislators of both parties and the governor have no problems with a law that creates, out of nowhere, a brand new "right of publicity". This right of publicity allows a person to control the use of his or her name and image for commercial purposes even after death. Sounds good so far, right? But wait. We all don't get this right. Only US soldiers, living or dead, have it. And actually, there are a few exceptions that make the law a lot less than it wants to appear to be. The law attempts to make exceptions for the following (quoted from the law):

"1. The use of a soldier's name, portrait or picture in an attempt to portray, describe or impersonate that soldier in a live performance, a single and original work of fine art, a play, book, article, musical work or film or on radio, television or other audio or audiovisual work if the performance, musical work, play, book, article or film does not itself constitute a commercial advertisement for any goods, wares or merchandise.
2. The use of a soldier's name, portrait or picture for noncommercial purposes, including any news, public affairs or sports broadcast or account."

And there are more exceptions. Notice how the law doesn't apply to any of the big stuff: movies, TV, videos, video games, radio, newspapers, magazines, articles, books. So what's left for this so called right of publicity to apply to? Let's see. Hmm. Maybe T shirts and antiwar posters and art where multiple copies are sold?

By this law you can do anything you want with a soldier's name or image in a movie, a video, a video game, a newspaper, magazine, on radio, on TV, and in books, without getting permission from anyone. And the owners of the movies, videos, video games, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, TV stations, and books, etc. are free to make all the profits they can off of the soldier's name or image, dead or alive. But a guy selling antiwar T shirts out of Flagstaff Arizona with names of US soldiers killed in Iraq on them is brought to court and threatened with lawsuits! This is not a dream. I'm not making this up. Read the law. This has really happened here in my state of Arizona, in my country, the land that I love. It makes me very sad.

 

Joe Rebholz

3 SEP 07

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