Top Row (left to right): André Breton; Buster Keaton; László Moholy-Nagy
Middle Row (left to right): Gertrude Stein; H. G. Wells; Frank O’Hara; Alfred Stieglitz
Bottom Row (left to right): Evelyn Waugh; D. T. Suzuki; Paul Nash; Mina Loy
Pictured above is our top pick of those whose works will, on 1st January 2017, enter the public domain in many countries around the world. Of the eleven featured, five will be entering the public domain in countries with a “life plus 70 years” copyright term (e.g. most European Union members, Brazil, Israel, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey, etc.) and six in countries with a “life plus 50 years” copyright term (e.g. Canada, New Zealand, and many countries in Asia and Africa) — those that died in the year 1946 and 1966 respectively. As always it’s a varied gaggle who’ve assembled for our graduation photo, including the founder of the Surrealist movement, a star of the silent film era, the Japanese author behind the popularisation of Buddhism in the West, two female writers at the heart of the Modernist scene, and one of the “fathers of science fiction”.
Below is a little bit more about each of their lives (with each name linking through to their respective Wikipedia pages, from which each text has been based).
Although prolific in many literary fields, Wells is now best remembered for his groundbreaking science fiction novels (what he termed “scientific romances”) and is often cited as one of the key founding fathers of the genre. Some of his most famous works include The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898). With their radical future visions and alternative realities made plausible by their rooting in science, Wells’ books have had a huge impact on the way we envisage (and indeed perhaps shape) our future. As well as the excitement of the fantastical elements, Wells’ writing contained also often a moral dimension, and from an early stage in his career he was an outspoken advocate of socialism, his later works becoming increasingly political.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Stein moved to Paris in 1903 where she became an influential cultural figure at the heart of the Modernist movement — through her experimental writings, her impressive art collection, and her salons which hosted the leading cultural lights of the early twentieth century, including the likes of Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Henri Matisse. Although the main body of her literary output was deemed too radical for popular success, her “memoir” of the Paris years, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written in the voice of her life partner, Alice B. Toklas, was a bestseller and propelled Stein from the obscurity of a cult literary scene into the limelight of mainstream attention. A lesbian, Stein was the author of one of the earliest coming out stories “Q.E.D”, originally written in 1903, and her essay “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” is often considered to contain the first published use of the word “gay” (which it uses over one hundred times) in reference to same-sex relationships and those who have them.
A writer, poet, anarchist and anti-fascist, Breton is perhaps best known for his role in founding the Surrealist movement, being the author of the first Surrealist Manifesto (Manifeste du surréalisme) of 1924, in which he defined surrealism as “pure psychic automatism”. In addition to his important literary output, Breton was an avid collector of art, ethnographic material, and varied curios. Particularly drawn to objects from the northwest coast of North America, Breton’s collection grew to more than 5,000 items: modern paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, books, art catalogs, journals, manuscripts, and works of popular and Oceanic art.
Born into a vaudeville family in Piqua, Kansas, Keaton became one of the most important figures of the silent film era. An actor, director, producer, writer, and stunt performer, he is best known for his peculiar brand of physical comedy, with his consistently stoic, deadpan expression, which earned him the nickname “The Great Stone Face”. Of all his films The General (1926) has won the highest praise, Orson Welles stating that it was cinema’s highest achievement in comedy, and perhaps the greatest film ever made. Critic Roger Ebert called Keaton “arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies”.
A curator at the Museum of Modern Art, O’Hara became prominent in New York City’s art world, and a leading figure in the “New York School” — an informal group of artists, writers and musicians who drew inspiration from jazz, surrealism, abstract expressionism, action painting and contemporary avant-garde art movements. A prolific poet, O’Hara’s approach veered away from the overly academic and overwrought forms of more traditional poetry, celebrating instead a more immediate and spontaneous orientation. In 1959, in Personism: A Manifesto, he explained his position on formal structure: “I don’t … like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, ‘Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.'” In the early morning hours of July 24th 1966, O’Hara was struck by a jeep on Fire Island beach, after the taxi in which he had been riding broke down in the dark. He died the next day of a ruptured liver.
Among the most important landscape artists of the first half of the twentieth century, Nash was a British surrealist painter and war artist who played a key role in the development of Modernism in English art. His distinctive renderings of the frontline during the First World War remain some of the period’s most iconic images, and after the war Nash continued to focus on landscape painting. Originally continuing his formalized, decorative style, as the 30s progressed, he became increasingly abstract and surreal.
Born as László Weisz to a Jewish family in Hungary, Moholy-Nagy was an artist of diverse interests — becoming proficient and innovative in the fields of photography, typography, sculpture, painting, printmaking, and industrial design — as well as an influential professor in the Bauhaus school. Highly influenced by constructivism and a strong advocate of the integration of technology and industry into the arts, perhaps his most enduring achievement was the construction of the “Lichtrequisit einer elektrischen Bühne” (Light Prop for an Electric Stage), completed in 1930 — a device with moving parts meant to have light projected through it in order to create mobile light reflections and shadows on nearby surfaces.
Born Mina Gertrude Löwy, Loy was a British artist, poet, playwright, novelist, futurist, feminist, and general all-round bohemian — perhaps best known today for penning the Feminist Manifesto, written in 1914 while living in an expatriate community in Florence, Italy. Her poetic output drew a whole host of famous admirers including T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Basil Bunting, Gertrude Stein, and Francis Picabia.
The author of some of the most celebrated introductions and overall examinations of Buddhism, particularly of the Zen school, Suzuki was instrumental in spreading interest in Zen (and Far Eastern philosophy in general) to the West. He spent several lengthy stretches teaching or lecturing at Western universities — including Columbia University from 1952 to 1957 — and was also a prolific translator of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature. His work in this field earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963, although it has been later revealed that he may have expressed Nazi sympathies during the 30s.
Stieglitz was an American photographer and modern art promoter who was instrumental over his fifty-year career in making photography an accepted art form. In addition to his photography, Stieglitz was known for the New York art galleries that he ran in the early part of the twentieth century, where he introduced many avant-garde European artists to the U.S, as well as being the husband to painter Georgia O’Keeffe.
Primarily known as a writer of novels, biographies and travel books, Waugh was also a prolific journalist and reviewer of books. His most famous works include the early satires Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), the novel Brideshead Revisited (1945) and the Second World War trilogy Sword of Honour (1952–61). Waugh is recognised as one of the great prose stylists of the English language in the twentieth century, the critic Clive James commenting that “Nobody ever wrote a more unaffectedly elegant English… its hundreds of years of steady development culminate in him”.
And a few others that didn’t make it to the class photo….
Some people you think we’ve missed? Please let us know in the comments!
To learn more about Public Domain Day visit publicdomainday.org. For more names whose works will be going into the public domain in 2017 see the Wikipedia pages on 1946 and 1966 deaths (which you can fine-tune down to writers and artists), and also this dedicated page.
Wondering what will enter the public domain through copyright expiration in the U.S.? Like last year, and the year before…Nothing (apart from unpublished works whose authors died in 1946).
Wondering if “bad things happen to works when they enter the public domain”? Wonder no more.