painting, pencils, pens

What is Art Law?

By Amy Riedel

Many moons ago, long before I became Apex Law Group’s law student intern and now associate, I was a budding art historian with dreams of pursuing graduate degrees in the field. While that may seem far removed from the legal profession, it helped me develop research and writing skills. Skills that have served me not only through law school, but into my professional life today. But this is not my law school application (thank goodness), so let’s get to the good stuff: art law.

What in fact is art law? I recently enrolled in a class at Seattle University Law School titled “Law & Business of Art & Cultural Heritage.” As excited as I was to take the class (SU alumni receive six free credits at the law school), I realized I could not answer the question of what “art law” actually meant.

What I discovered is that, much like what drew me to the study of art history, art law is an interdisciplinary topic that covers many different areas of legal practice. Among these disciplines are intellectual property, contracts, commercial sales, property, and international law. Further, there is no standardized body of law. Statutes and common law vary between states within the United States’ jurisdiction, and internationally between jurisdictions. Only the works themselves limit art law. I also learned that. although “art” in a common context includes disciplines like music and theatre, the context of “art law” typically deals only with fine art such as paintings and sculpture. Music and theatre are instead under the umbrella of “entertainment law.”

Sorry if you were looking for a definitive answer of what is “art law”; after a semester in the class, I’ve come to find that the definition of “art law” is only slightly less amorphous than it was when I began. Instead, I have had the opportunity to explore what I think of as my “first love” in academia from a new perspective (the legal brain), restore my passion for museums (new Seattle Art Museum membership), and most importantly, open my eyes to new areas of the law I had not previously explored (hello entertainment law). I suspect I will be plowing through my remaining free credits at the law school faster than anticipated!

The article provided above is for general information purposes only and should not be relied on as specific legal advice. This article does not form an attorney-client relationship. If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to contact Amy Riedel at

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