My monthly blog’s almost five months late and there’s dust gathering in the studio, but I’ve got a great excuse, it’s down to “circumstances beyond my control”. Sometimes life throws you a spanner, takes you by surprise or should I say people’s actions do, then all your time and energy focuses on the matter in hand, then it’s down to you take charge, take action and steer the ship. After all this whirlwind activity, the result is I have a whole new appreciation for legal matters, and it’s got me thinking about the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.
Of course in our global world there are many different jurisdictions but generally the law serves many purposes and functions in societies, the four main ones being; establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. When I think about it, the law is never far away from our lives, it forms the bedrock of our everyday existence, and it even finds its way into the creative art process. For example, I recently attended a professional practice program where there was a whole session on the topic of intellectual property rights, an area that generates lots of disputes in the creative industries.
Remember the infamous Rothko case in the 1970s, “a Betrayal the Art World Can't Forget”, it’s a story of underhanded and calculated greed that exposed the inner workings of the supposedly genteel contemporary art world and placed it firmly onto the public stage. The Rothko case was the protracted legal dispute between Kate Rothko, the daughter of the painter Mark Rothko; the painter's estate executors; and the directors of his gallery, Marlborough Fine Art. Ultimately, certain directors at Marlborough were convicted of defrauding the Rothko family, and in 1975, the court ordered the gallery to pay over $9 million in damages and costs, and also ordered the gallery to return 658 Rothko paintings it still held. As a result, Rothko and his work became better known, further establishing his reputation. Marlborough lost its pre-eminence in contemporary art. Its flamboyant owner, Frank Lloyd, never recouped his reputation, and neither did Theodoros Stamos, a painter Rothko chose as an executor of his will.
Rothko’s daughter Kate concluded that “the case also taught artists a worldly lesson and opened their eyes to the concept that art was a business, not just an intellectual world”.
Taking the humanistic approach, the Rothko case clearly exemplifies how disputes come about, it’s when that age old emotion of trust that’s essential in any relationship, business, personal or otherwise breaks down, we end up feeling betrayed, and then it’s up to the lawyers to sort it out.
There are many quotes about betrayal but my favorite has to be from Suzanne Collins, the author of the Hunger Games; “for there to be betrayal, there would have to have been trust first”.
Let’s hope we can trust the Law wherever we are.