|Minna Gilligan, For you baby, 2014.|
Whilst scrolling through my Instagram feed earlier this week as I so regularly do, I came across an image of one of my artworks. Not super unusual, I thought, until I saw it was posted to the @Nastygal account with 2.3 million followers, sans any acknowledgment to me as the artist.
You may know Nasty Gal as the flailing American retailer founded by #Girlboss author Sophia Amoruso. It was at its peak in 2012, which is when I was asked to do a couple of freelance illustrations for their publication ‘Super Nasty’. I’d followed them online since this professional transaction.
The uncredited collage, actually titled ‘For you, baby’ (2014) garnered over 14,000 likes on the Nasty Gal Instagram. The caption they originally accompanied the post with was “One for them, one for you #newarrivals” Essentially, my work was being used to publicise the fact that they had new arrivals available for sale on their website.
So, the unsolicited sharing of my artwork happens all the time. Every day, actually. Sometimes I bother following up and usually receive the requested credit with an apology. Other times, I don’t even know it has happened and I suppose people just assume the artwork magically appeared out of nowhere.
This nasty business of Nasty Gal not crediting my work stands out as a particularly insulting example due to the sheer scale of saturation. When I was younger I accepted the intermittent erasure of my authorship as a consequence of making my artwork so readily available online. Now, I see it as toxic laziness that contributes to a larger, more damaging narrative of artists having to struggle to earn a living.
I make paintings, drawings and collage work. When making collage work largely from 1960s and 1970s imagery, I employ the ‘fair use’ doctrine, which states that the use of printed material must be transformative from its original intention. I stick to these rules because I know how it feels when someone doesn’t at your expense. An avid user of social media, I am courteous when it comes to posting imagery from elsewhere. If you can’t reverse Google image search something you’ve found back to the source in order to credit correctly, don’t post it.
Crediting someone for their art work is like saying please or thank you. It’s simple enough in theory, but in practice a whole other story. It’s why I don’t follow faceless ‘inspiration’ accounts on Instagram. These languid platforms populate seemingly anonymous imagery to form an aesthetic that is deemed at once cool and mindlessly attractive, worthy of a double tap here and there. While Instagram has been a boon for young artists in regards to creating a stage for their work, it has also created a space where people run hobby accounts and largely aren’t held accountable for their lack of research in the humans who actually produce what they post.
When an artwork is posted on a social media platform without acknowledgement of the artist, the narrative of a creative origin or process is erased. The erasure of this subsequently means the erasure of the artist. The artwork is then devalued due to the disassociation it now possesses from any human emotion or intention. It becomes a faceless entity, void of warmth, that is reduced merely to aesthetically pleasing pixels for thousands to thumb past in a millisecond’s interaction.
With no acknowledgement of the artist, people begin to think that imagery like my work ‘For you, baby’ just anonymously appears for free use. It is this consequence that damages the livelihood of young artists like myself, for it perpetuates an attitude that people shouldn’t value art monetarily.
Six hours and over one hundred comments later, my authorship of the piece was finally acknowledged in a less than ideal fashion. Founder of Nasty Gal, Sophia Amoruso, saw my earlier plea that I had tagged her in. Her comment response on my post was brash and rude. She even bothered to reply to other people who had written sympathetically on my photo saying things like “Bummer” about their experiences as artists with not being credited appropriately. She deleted these comments a mere twenty minutes after posting them. Nasty Gal subsequently got in contact with me and reluctantly credited the image, with no apology. Only the next day was I then offered a decent apology (after they talked with their “team” further) and a $200 gift card, which I politely declined.
After this instance of fighting for the most basic crumbs of recognition, I am exhausted. It seems so reductive to have to kick up such a fuss for something as easily done as acknowledging the author of creative content with a mere tag. Nasty Gal claims they were simply “unable to find the source of the work”, a work which on Tumblr has over 35,000 notes with my credit clearly below.
I fought the big fight for this one because it IS worth it to try and educate even a fraction of those 2.3 million followers that this matters, and I matter, and everyone who is making art and struggling yet generously sharing matters.