PROPERTIES

Mortgage note What is the property of a flower? Diaphanous petals--curvaceous of course--daring declarations of intention to all who notice, seductive edges radiating from a central core: flowers announce themselves. They do not hide. Inherent properties of flowers vary from species to species, but each type has its own list of specifics: bright colors here, spiky there, smooth and round, flat and bold. The properties of a flower define it's identity.

Now, turn to consider the following: what is the nature of ownership? To possess is to govern, or at least define rights of access. To own something is to assert influence. Property defines place, identity, even parameters of time.

There's a fascinating relationship between the two ideas, the concept of property as a description of something's inherent nature, and the thought of property as a concept of ownership, of something belonging to something else, singularly, personally, perhaps intimately. When we consider the properties of a thing, we focus the concept of identity inward on the subject. Properties of an object or an idea itself, a flower, say, resist external ownership. They are inherent; they cannot be bolted on or transferred by contract. A rose by any other name doesn't give a damn who owns it; it smells as sweet no matter who possesses the receipt. Even the mighty Immanuel Kant suggested that the attributes of a something do not come as a direct result of existence; they are inherent unto themselves, with matters of existence demanding compartmentalized vocabulary. Attributes do not prove existence.

I hear my creative Muse impatiently tapping her coffee spoon against her demitasse. Are we talking creativity here or are we talking about law? Or even more exasperating (she's edgy this morning), are we waxing philosophical in this space without good justification?

Properties of individual creative works defy ownership. They defy the concept of becoming "property" even as they often belong to a person or an institution. A painting, a sonata, a superb bowl of French Onion soup each have unique properties. Where the last in the list may have an exceedingly short, delicious, life span, the principal obtains for the lot: what can it possibly mean to own the unique nature of something? (Calmer now, my Muse smooths out her sundress, a faint grin on her face as she stares out the window.) No doubt it's possible to own a Monet, a Moore, a Mondrian, but to assert the potential for transformative "properties" of those works in the same ways that "property" transfers with each contractual writ is to pretend something substantial. It's to assume abilities beyond us. It's hubris.

The most easily identified property, of course, is real estate. But when well made, buildings not only outlive their creators, but begin to abnegate the identities of those who conceive of them. Buildings may be owned in a contemporary, legal sense, but the essential natures of their beings accrue over time rather than by declarations at the bank. Properties of a real estate property evolve over time, tumbledown or exquisite, storied or infamous.

Paid? Sure, we should get paid for creative work. The relative value of creative work varies with each piece, with each category of work. Sidewalk caricatures probably ought to get less per piece than detailed urban planning schematics. Without financial appreciation for the hard labor of creation, those who create would not be able to do so. But payment for work is not the same as determination of property, of who it belongs to. More importantly, payment is also not the determination of it's unique properties.

Creators all of us, each in our own unique domains, we therefore achieve a sense of freedom in our actions when we release philosophical ownership of our works. We discover the properties of exotic flowers each day as we do the labor of traveling through the hard lands of our inventive efforts. Once discovered, the work leaves us, like children flying away to their own new lives, seeds of a blossom borne on the wind, with hopes that they take root somewhere healthy, appreciative, and peaceful.

--MS

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