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YOUR THOUGHTS: On Artists’ Works Being Released Posthumously
September 26, 2011
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Last week, in the wake of the publication of a new collection of Shel Silverstein's unpublished poems, we asked if an artist's work should be released posthumously.

These are a few of the thoughtful responses we received.

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Stephen Witteveen

Interesting question... plenty of works of art are sold and resold after the artist's death. A lost Shakespearian work that had perhaps never been finished or publicized could be worth millions. Overall, I would say there's no problem with posthumous publication.

Ian Welch
Look at how Tupac and Notorious B.I.G have been treated. A couple of out of context lyrics laid down in studio sessions have been turned into songs. The people making money off of the posthumous releases are leeches. It turns the artist's life's work into trash. Posthumous releases of music should only be okayed IF they have complete songs/albums that were to be released if they hadn't died abruptly. Books/songs/screenplays - all of it - should only be released by and with the consent of the artist.

Meghan Braithwaite
No, I don't think works should be published posthumously unless it is part of fulfilling a contract. Too many times it just smacks of greed and a ghostwriter is standing in while the public is told the author had some unfinished manuscripts. VC Andrews died in 1986, yet her name has been on a ton of books since. But then there are books like the Millenium series by Stieg Larsson; the three novels were complete but unpublished at the time of his death. His partner has his fourth manuscript which is 3/4 finished. Writers need to ensure their wills do specify who will have control of their written work.

Brita Brookes
As most artists are their worst critics perhaps releasing the work would give an insight into creative process. I loved seeing the contact sheets from Robert Capa & others because it shows all those hundreds of photos they took that never made it to the magazine cover. And it is important to learn about process - so many kids these days think everything is instant, no work needed, no mistakes, etc... when most art process is full of writes & rewrites, work intensive & time consuming.

Mike Kivari
When an artist decides not to publish a piece of work, perhaps because he can't find the right place for a comma, it may still be an exceptional piece of work, even though his perfectionist ideals would not let him release it. I, for one, would think that after an appropriate amount of time, it would be interesting to fans of this artist to see what else he has produced.

Lyndsey Morgan
I think it should be written into their will. I suppose if they leave their works to someone, anything could be done with it upon the beneficiary's will/liking, unless otherwise stated... but I guess that's where morals and ethics kick in.

Patrick Morgan
Perhaps for clarity and to properly assign credit, posthumous works should be labeled "from the Estate of Shel Silverstein." It's generally safe to argue that while the artist is no longer able to make such decisions for themselves, it is also reasonable that those who have had estate rights bequeathed to them have the artist's best interests at heart (usually). Posthumous 'actions' are well intentioned but not actually the responsibility of the artist and as such should be separated from their original catalogue of works.

Meagan Van Den Biggelaar
I think that the private work of an artist is an insight into the many facets of their soul. Beauty that would otherwise not be seen by simply looking at their face. I know for myself, oftentimes I use art as an outlet to work through something or make a sentiment about something I wouldn't necessarily like to advertise. I think maybe Shel could have felt the same. Otherwise wouldn't his stuff already be out for the world to see?

Bekka Favelle
What if a long-forgotten DaVinci (Monet, Manet, Beethoven, Emily Carr, etc.) piece were uncovered tomorrow for the first time? Would the world deserve to see it (after its authenticity were determined, perhaps), or should the world be denied because the artist has long since passed on?

Artists create, sometimes for themselves personally, but usually with the intention to share.

It's hard to judge intent sometimes, so that can't be a valid criterion for releasing work posthumously. I think it really all depends on the quality of the work. If it's incomplete, then I don't think people would be satisfied with it. If it is a complete work and fills out the collection of that particular artist, then I can't see any reason not to release it (barring any specifications in a will or other document outlining the artist's wishes).

TIME AND DESIRE
Speaking as an artist, it is most likely unknown. An account of unperceivable mini-truths for which there is no clear black and white answer.

Perhaps like most artists who gain notoriety, Shel's supporters and family and the people who believed in him helped by giving him time and space and love and money to produce. And if in the end the family is left with the death of such a great producer, one whom they helped, they too deserve some of the gold. But for me it is too tangled of a story to know...

The only thing I do know is true: Death makes a phoenix of many talented and unappreciated artists in the years that follow. And so I tell my family death will be my last hope for success!

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