Making Art from Other People's Tweets

I tweeted this morning about the possibility of making art from people's tweets. I posited the idea that I might not credit people, or that the work would be accompanied by a certificate of some sort that credits those who contributed. I have done this for a piece “Recollection” that was sold in a charity auction. I wasn't so concerned about it in that case, as the money was going to a charity and not to me, but the person who bought it also has a piece of paper with all the usernames of people who contributed their words.

However, what would happen if it was for my gain only?

I should say from the outset that my replies inevitably reflected a whole spectrum of views and some legal references - of which I read enough to understand that using tweets is still very much a grey area. So that doesn't really help, from a legal point of view. I think, however, that I'm not so much interested in doing the legal thing as doing the 'right' thing – not necessarily the same thing!

I occasionally initiate threads on twitter that I think would lend themselves to being the source material for my work.

The form this takes is open at the moment, but I'm envisaging using the words as part of original, one-off drawings and paintings which would most likely be sold to private customers, either directly from me or through some sort of exhibition.

I was interested in gauging whether some people objected in principle to what amounts to my gaining commercially from using their source material. This is very blunt, the reality the material would be more than likely curated by me, tweeted to me directly or via a hashtag that I have created for the purpose.

The material may be already in existence, which I tend to gather via the Storify website. Examples here:

Earliest Memories 


Or it may be new material which I gather in the same way, for the purpose.

Several people replied to me on the theme. It ranged from those who felt it would be an honour and would be happy for me to use their tweets to someone who thought it was not ok because it was “creepy”.

While I'm pretty sure I'm not creepy, I definitely have to consider those who think it's not ok in principle, and there were a few.

Some suggest that I contact all those whose contributions I want to use. While this makes sense on one level, I'm concerned that it's impracticable. If the tweets already exist, I could tweet each of the sometimes 100+ contributors and ask for their permission before I start drawing, despite the fact that I might not end up using their contribution. If I do it after the drawing and one says 'no' then the work is spoilt. What happens if I get no reply, or the person has left twitter? Does no reply = consent, even if I say that in the tweet? It's possible to do it this way, but problematic.

If I take the example of Earliest Memories (which I'd really like to use), I could in practice tweet all the contributors for their assent and only use those who say yes. It might be time consuming, but it would be part of the process and at least I would have consent. My concern is that too much 'admin' is going to destroy the creative impulse behind it.

The other method would be (as I did with Recollection) to post a short blog beforehand explaining what I'm going to do. Hopefully everyone who contributes would understand my intentions. Inevitably I would pick up those who were unaware, but perhaps my 'disclaimer' would cover any possible objection on their part.

A few people asked why I couldn't credit those who contributed. I think in all likelihood I would do so. It's relatively easy to manage this as all the material I gather would refer to a username (the advantage of Storify), and I've always tried to do this in the past. As to what form the credit takes, this is more likely to be in the form of a certificate that accompanies the finished work, rather than shown in the work itself - I don't want to have to write usernames all over a drawing, especially not 100 of them! Usually the work will be owned by a private individual, so the credit has no currency in the wider world, but at least the owner will be aware of who has contributed to it. I could also create a page on this website where I credit people. It might be a small gesture, but at least it would be there as a matter of record.

Some people have suggested I add text of this nature to my twitter bio/profile. Again this is slightly problematic as it raises the expectation that anything tweeted at me may be turned into art - I don't want this to be the expectation when people tweet me. Also, lots of people simply don't read a bio before replying.

If none of this works, I will continue to use my own words. Which is fine, but I do like the idea of making art out of other people's words. Maybe it's only appropriate for works that I don't stand to gain from commercially.

Examples of the type of work I might create using words from people's tweets. 

I suppose I should in the spirit of the piece thank everyone who contributed their thoughts on the subject, but therein lies the problem - time! 

(I will at least say a special "Thanks" to twitter's @MrBoffly for his advice)