What Sylvia Plath Taught Me is by Summer Pierre
1/24/14 – (UPDATE: The original source Grace Bello updated and credited me and left a wonderful comment below. Uncredited images are still a problem, but for now I feel my faith in humanity restored–thank you thank you, Grace.)
Last night on twitter, a reader, Esther Berghdal, alerted me to the fact that The Atlantic had blogged my drawing of Sylvia Plath. I would have been thrilled, except that it had been blogged without credit from one of their associate’s blogs. Then I saw that NPR had also blogged it from The Atlantic and so did Rookie Mag. Rookie Mag had a sad little comment saying, “Wish we knew who the source was because it’s great.”
I am a fan of all three of those agencies and, as you might imagine, so are many other people. I should have been feeling excited and elated, but I was freaked out at the climbing numbers of reblogging and likes. I stopped looking when the “love” of my image neared 6,000 notes.
I contacted NPR blog team, The Atlantic blog team, and the original “source” for blogging, Grace Bello,
but none of them have responded or credited me. (UPDATE: Grace Bello updated and credited me and left a wonderful comment below. I love it when humans prevail! Thank you, Grace!) After a flurry of tweeting, Rookie Mag responded and were quick to credit me (I love you Rookies!!). They also mentioned that they tried to find the source through Google images and a service called TinEye.com, but could not find the source. So I tried it myself and what I found was page after page of pins and tumbles and blogs of my image all uncredited. My anxiety went through the roof and I just closed the computer knowing it was ultimately a lost cause–one perhaps that I can take steps to avoid in the future, but is the nature and a hazard of putting your work on-line.
NPR and The Atlantic may have bigger fish to fry then to seek out the sources of all the images they blog (though as news sources, they technically should not), but my drawings and the life they take on, are the only fish I have. What can I say, but this is a STONE COLD BUMMER. Despite what it may seem, it is actually WORSE than getting no attention at all. How can you feel you are making an impact when nobody cares to see who’s doing the work? Distribution means nothing when you’re being distributed namelessly.
I am loathe to make giant complaints about the nature of information on the internet, because I already have and it’s like shouting into a windstorm and those who hear me fall into two camps: ones that already agree with me and others who roll their eyes and think “Get over it.” To talk about the value of information and its sources on this weird floating orb we call the internet is to talk about something everyone knows, but not enough people care about. It is to talk about a sinking ship that set sail awhile ago.
Still, I give a shit. I give a shit because I value what I do. I give a shit because I value what others do (I have donated money to you, NPR!). I give a shit because for some mysterious reason I want my work to be seen and valued by others–and part of that is to value and know that I made it. You take that part away and what does it mean? Nada.
I don’t need to tell you about the time and effort and “real work” that went into my art–you all know that. Grace Bello knows that. NPR and The Atlantic knows that. Joe or Jane Schmoe who originally downloaded the image and reposted it knows that it took effort–but nobody feels responsible to that effort because it’s just a nifty cloud in space among a billion clouds in space they interface with every day.
So now I am going to have to do stuff with my art that I just hate, like putting my name shamelessly in titles of blog posts like this one. I am going to have to put copyright signatures on everything I do. If that doesn’t work than I’ll have to put the awful watermark that ruins the art but protects it. Lacking that, I can’t afford the effort of posting on-line. I’m glad my drawings are good enough to be passed on, but I, as the artist, can’t afford the be passed up. I don’t have enough opportunities yet to swallow the cost. It’s just the reality.