There are so many things I wish I were writing about today instead of this. Our trip to the Long’s Park Art and Craft Festival, quite possibly the most scenic show we’ve ever attended, with a beautiful lake complete with ducks, swans, and a weeping willow right behind our booth. And fence posts INSIDE the booth. Or our triumphant return to the scene of our first show last year, the St. Louis Art Fair. This time we had display units that did NOT wobble, despite the kids being just as grabby and undisciplined as last year. Or our puppy, Mongo, who has now gone two months without peeing in the house, but who still doesn’t seem to have two brain cells to rub together. We tell people that he’s not a slow learner, he’s just a very fast forgetter–seems more positive that way. Here’s the story;
When we were exhibiting in Des Moines, another artist informed us that there was someone out there knocking off the Fobots. I didn’t think much of it at the time, having bigger issues to deal with, like multiple thunderstorms and sliding tents. But the day before we left for St. Louis, a different artist emailed me the same thing–this time, with details. A competing show to SLAF, the Schlafly Art Outside show held on the same weekend in nearby Maplewood, MO, had some exhibitors whose work was similar to mine. Disturbingly similar. In some cases, almost exactly alike. When two robots both have a birdcage body, spinning top head with a spring affixed to the top of it, car door handle arms, and a little baby robot inside of the same size and shape, it doesn’t matter that the legs are different–it’s too close to be a coincidence. I’m not going to post pictures of the worst examples here. And I’m not going to say who the “artists” are, as I don’t want to embarrass them more than they’ve already been embarrassed. Anyway–I cut and pasted some photos from their website side by side with my originals, put the document on my phone, and showed them to some of the artists and organizers of SLAF Friday morning at breakfast to get their advice. They all said I should confront the copycats, but being the weenie that I am, I said no, I’d rather just let it slide. Phil, however, had ideas of his own.
I should point out here that we had one other adventure in Long’s Park the week before. Phil got a bug bite or a cut or something on his left thigh that went from tiny pimple to massive, oozing, disgusting, “don’t look directly at it you’ll damage your retinas” infection. A trip to the emergency room in St. Louis provided a diagnosis of staph. An incorrect diagnosis, as it turned out, and the drugs didn’t do anything but make him vomit repeatedly. So by Saturday afternoon, Phil was in pretty bad shape, and I sent him back to the hotel room to lie down. Sales had been nonexistent that morning, a condition that always makes me believe that every person in the world who would ever want a Fobot has already purchased one, and what am I doing with my life? And of course, a half hour after Phil left, sales got crazy good and my credit card terminal wasn’t connecting and people were waiting in line and it was hot and I was worried sick about Phil and I want my mommy. Welcome to the glamorous life of a professional artist.
But as you may have guessed, Phil did not go to sleep–at least not right away. Unbeknownst to me, he drove to the Schlafly show and visited the faux Fobot creators, two older couples who collaborate on their creations. He asked them what their inspiration was. They replied that the two ladies loved to shop for junk at flea markets, and their husbands loved putting the junk together. Phil asked how long they’d been making the bots. For a year, they said. Phil then asked if they’d ever heard of Amy Flynn, Fobots, or ifobot.com. No, never heard of them OR the St. Louis Art Fair, which they certainly didn’t visit last year. Phil then informed them that that was pretty amazing, as some of their pieces were very close copies of mine. They then tried a different tactic, saying that art can’t be copyrighted, and anyway, they’d been doing this for TWO years now. Phil mentioned that if they were real, true artists they wouldn’t be stealing from other artists. “Start working on a style of your own, not pirate someone else’s.” About this time one of the men mentioned he’d been laid off 6 months ago and his wife said something cryptic: “This is just one week for you.” “What’s that mean?”, Phil asked. “It’s just one weekend for you” again. Phil replied that it was not one weekend, it was my career and they were stealing my livelihood. Long ugly story short, Phil ended up yelling “Shame on you. Shame, shame, shame,” before leaving and going back to the hotel to sleep. I didn’t hear about this until later that night, and it upset me, to put it mildly.
I am now going to direct the rest of this blog post to the plagiarists. First of all, I’m sorry if Phil scared you. He shouldn’t have yelled in a public place like that, upsetting the patrons and other exhibitors. I apologize for having a husband who loves me so much that he may have lost his temper in an attempt to remedy a situation that he thought was upsetting me. I know you’ve been to my website–I can see people’s IP addresses in my stats, and I’m sure you’ll be reading this blog post soon. Don’t worry–I’m probably not going to sue you, but you need to develop your own style if you want to be called artists. There are already a few robot artists out there, and we have very different styles. Two of my favorites are Bill Finks, of “Primitive Twig” and Anthony Pack, whose marvelous creatures make me smile just thinking about them. Oh, and Lipson Robotics–those are some amazing bots. But nobody would ever mistake my work for theirs, our styles are so personal and unique. Here’s a guideline–if dozens of people are sticking their heads into your both at a show and saying, “Aren’t you exhibiting at the other show, too?” (and I hear they were), then the style is too close. And I’m not going to accept “Oh, we just didn’t know better” as a excuse. A former art teacher of yours told my friend Mary that she’d warned you that what you’re doing is wrong, as did at least one other person. Yes, in the art world, there’s maybe one or two degrees of separation. And you’re mistaken if you think that art can’t be copyrighted. Copyright exists the moment the art is in “fixed form”. One doesn’t even need to file with the government for it to exist, although I have done so. I was actually more concerned about possible cheap, Asian knockoffs when I filed. I’m glad I did, and I will defend my intellectual property.
So there you have it. I wish you the best of luck, and I hope the next time I see your work, I’ll be able to say “Wow! Those are cool! What a distinctive style you have!” And now, because I don’t want to end on a down note, and because I always like to have at least one picture in every blog post, I’ll share my favorite story from the St. Louis Art Fair. On Sunday morning, an elderly lady who was dressed like she had been to church, entered my booth. She wanted to buy a Fobot, and after looking at quite a few of them, she expressed a desire to see “Tony Cojoney”, pictured below. ” I have to warn you”, I said, “Tony is a naughty robot.” You can’t see them in the picture, but I went on,”He has nuts made out of actual nuts”. “SOLD!”, she cried. That’ll teach me to stereotype…