In Art, as in most areas of life, California is ahead of the rest of us. A new set of California laws, collectively known as “An Artist’s Bill of Rights,” prohibit the buyer of a work of art from making any alterations in that work without consent of the artist. According to a recent issue of State of the Arts; the official publication of the California Arts Council, buyers of art are beginning to feel the force of this new law. In one reported case, the owner of a painting is facing legal action for removing dollar bills that the artist had originally sewn to his canvas. The law allows the artist to sue the offending owner for “actual and punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, expert witness’ fees and injunctive relief.”

It is hard to calculate the effect of such a law. For some time now, the serious art shave been divorced from the greater public. The books of new poets go unread, most new music goes unheard and even unplayed, and nobody much likes modem painting except the people whose lives depend upon it-painters and critics. It is easy to blame these developments upon the public’s philistinism or (which comes closer) the artists’ arrogance. Whatever the cause, few people regard paintings and verses as somehow their own. Art is something abstract, recherche, and recondite­ accessible only to the initiated few. In California art is so etherealized, it is no longer even property.

If the California law catches on (remember Proposition 13?), no one will dare buy a work of art of any period. Lawyers being lawyers, we can expect to see briefs filed on behalf of Praxiteles and Michelangelo over the matter of certain fig leaves in the Vatican.