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Authorship, Ownership, And Mortality--Does Anybody Really Own Anything?

Updated on January 27, 2012


If artists and other creative people lived forever, then would they still need to claim things or ideas as their own?


"Infinity's Dream"

Photo  by Robert G. Kernodle
Photo by Robert G. Kernodle

Where Does It All Begin Or End?

If human ingenuity and human imagination are fully engaged, then boundaries between seemingly separate art media, art styles and art objects can easily become blurred. Origins and endings are no longer clearly defined, because each object’s or each action’s meaning depends on every other object and on every other action in an intricate web of existence, where nothing truly stands alone.

For example, an original painting seems to stand alone (during the year of its creation), but it easily becomes a digital photograph, subject to further manipulation, twelve years later. The new digital manipulation of the old original painting, thus, aquires a fresh role in a new digital collage, along with other similarly digitized photographs of similarly once-independent media creations.


"Alien Symphony No. 1"

Photo by Robert G. Kernodle
Photo by Robert G. Kernodle

Old Meanings Acquire New Meanings

As different original images recombine, so do their different original symbols, metaphors and meanings. New symbols, metaphors and meanings, therefore, emerge. A twelve-year span between an original painting’s creation and its digital rebirth could logically justify a claim that the digital photograph required precisely this number of years to develop.

But why settle for the claim of 12 years? Has the artwork not taken forever to create?

Does the artwork not evolve from paints and canvas threads, formulated by chemists and physical engineers, according to the laws of our universe? Do these raw materials and their laws not evolve from stardust that produced Earth and Earth’s geological epochs, encompassing a chain of interconnected events over eons, enabling a particular artwork to arrive at its particular here-and-now?

Why is the here-and-now of an artwork’s existence labeled with a distinguishing identity that separates it from its total, true chain of being?



Photo by Robert G. Kernodle
Photo by Robert G. Kernodle

“Proximate Causes”

The recognized author or artist of a particular artwork is merely a “proximate cause” (or closet cause) of the artwork’s existence. The actual cause of the artwork’s existence is far more extensive, encompassing many lives and many lifetimes that are entwined in an all-inclusive, ultimately inseparable whole reality that has no start or finish.

Who, then, is an individual artist, other than a self-centered blip in the vastness of all being, caught up in a miniscule instant of eternity?

Laws Of Mortality Vs. Laws of The Cosmos

Authorship and ownership are practical claims. Truly rational claims to such privileges seem untenable. No one person really authors or owns any other one entity, because no entity actually stands alone. Ever.

We humans require such individual claims, because such claims enable our survival in a social system of exchanges based on proximate, mortal illusions. Our civilizations, our commerce, our governments and our laws all favor the local chain of cause-and-effect. The laws of the universe, on the other hand, “know” of no such favoritism.

Large numbers of human beings living together in limited spans of eternity cannot behave in any other way. Human biology itself requires boundaries. Ownership and authorship are necessary illusions. Mortality forces sharp divides between “life” and “death”, and mortality creates the necessity for agreements based on proximate causes.

Consequently, death dictates the need for ownership, while life proceeds unclaimed in the grand scheme of things.


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