Saturday, July 08, 2017

Should an artist's testamentary direction to destroy unfinished work be honored? (UPDATED)

From the New York Times, the case of Edward Albee:

"'It presents a moral and legal quandary,' said John Sare, a partner at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler and the co-author of 'Estate Planning for Authors and Artists.' 'You may feel a moral obligation to do as you’ve been asked, but that may be in competition with a moral obligation to do what’s best for the history of arts and letters and a legal obligation to conserve the assets of the estate for the beneficiaries.'

"Eva E. Subotnik, an associate professor at St. John’s University School of Law, argued for some skepticism about such provisions.  'There is something special about these kinds of assets — they’re not just like a mansion or a fancy watch, but they’re socially valuable, and that has to play into the calculus,' Ms. Subotnik said. 'I definitely argue against full-throttle enforcement of artistic control after death.'

"But another expert on the subject, Lior J. Strahilevitz, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, disagreed. 'Part of what we value in a great artist is not just raw ability but the ability to curate, and it’s frequently the case that artists build great reputations by being selective about what they show to the world,' he said. 'It’s problematic to force Albee to share these plays when he didn’t think they were good enough.'"

UPDATE:  Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento connects this to another current controversy over artistic control -- David Mamet's discouragement of post-show discussions -- and says:  "Why is it that if an artist wants to control her artistic property or, god forbid, destroy it, the general public seems obliged to shriek and criticize the artist? Why is it that this public thinks they know better than the artist as to the artwork’s fate and, more so, that they have some “right” to read or view it?"

Ann Althouse agrees:  "Mamet doesn't need to prove that there's something objectively wrong with post-show talks. He's the artist, and he's determining how he wants his play shown."