Thoughts on Richard Prince and the State of Appropriation Today

Richard Prince was in some hot water for taking a bunch of Instagram pics, adding comments, then presenting it as his own work and selling it for insane sums of money.

But is he wrong? Or his the message his work communicates saying something important about the times we are living in?

Why I’ve Taken This Side in the Copyright Debate

A lot of our projects (like Take a Picture and DRM Box) poke fun at intellectual property. We do things to challenge, subvert or outright mock copyright and content protection.

Why do we take this side of the copyfight? Aren’t we artists? Don’t we benefit from these things?

I take the stance I do because of stories like this: Guy Gets Bogus YouTube Copyright Claim… On Birds Singing In The Background | TechDirt

Companies like Rumblefish claim copyright ownership of birds chirping in the background, and profit off of ads that are placed on these videos, depriving the actual content creator of income. And this isn’t a one off mistake. TechDirt has talked about this same company doing the same thing back in 2009.

Rumblefish has a long history of making false copyright claims against people.

They do seem to eventually drop their false claims after getting a ton of bad press, and being mocked publicly on BoingBoing, Reddit, TechDirt, Google’s own help forums, and Slashdot for several days, but the problem remains: Companies with long histories of profiting by abusing artists and creators go unpunished. And while the issues are being resolved, they are profiting from work they have falsely claimed as their own. This is not a minor mistake on their part; This is mass-piracy for commercial purposes.

According to American law, making a false copyright claim is supposed to be punishable by perjury.

So where are the charges?

As an artist, it absolutely disgusts me that companies push for laws that not only enable censorship and erode our right to free expression, but they also make it harder for me to create. Then they demand ownership of my ideas, strip me of my ability to make a living, try their damnedest to avoid paying me, and claim to be doing all this in my name.

No.
You do not speak for me.
You do not represent my interests.
You threaten everything I stand for and believe in.

That’s why I’ve taken this side of the Copyright debate.

Do You Sell Originals, or Reproductions?

In the last entry in the “Photographing Art” series, Don’t Bother With Image Protection, I covered some reasons why I think that allowing images of art work to be freely shared isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some people want to photograph art, or download images of art, and for artists dealing with one-of-a-kind images, like painters, the benefits of this infringement can outweigh the risks.

The last entry was rather one-sided, however. Freely allowing copies isn’t going to be beneficial in all situations. If you are in the selling reproductions business, file sharing has the potential to eat away at sales. I can sympathize with this. I have made money licensing images for prints myself. As a struggling artist, I know that every source of income, no matter how small it might seem, is very significant.

How many image makers are in the business of selling reproductions? Photographers certainly are, but I believe that it is important for artists to decide on the main focus of their practice: are they about selling originals, or selling reproductions.
If you are in the business of selling reproductions, this series is probably not for you. If you are more interested in selling originals, please come with me as I take you through the weird world of infinite goods.
Continue reading Do You Sell Originals, or Reproductions?

Take a Picture

From reading my entries so far, it may seem that I have a one-track mind: my only interest is photographing art. There is a reason for this singular focus up to this point. Over the past several months, I have been working on a project that is specifically about photographing art. The issues of art, photography, copyright, digital technologies, and social media have been dominating my thoughts and conversations for a very long time now. It seems only natural that those ideas would spill into this blog as well.

This project has grown out of my interest in free culture. This interest began with an angry museum guard yelling at me for taking some pictures. It grew as I began teaching myself some basic computer programming, where I quickly discovered how wonderful it is to have access to a body of free knowledge, ideas, and materials. Working with electronics, and having a constant need for datasheets and schematics only strengthened this opinion. But, it was Windows Vista that finally provided me with that final push to fully embrace the world of open source. What I found was a world where just about any small tool was freely available with just a few keystrokes (provided I could get the damn wireless connection to work) As a user, the benefits of this mindset, this ecosystem of permissive sharing is very appealing. But I’m not just a content consumer, I’m also an artist; I am a content creator. It’s only fair that as a producer, I should try to pass on the same benefits that I enjoy as a consumer.

The art world that I learned about back in art school was one that prides itself on being part of the cultural avant garde. My experience in the art business leaves me thinking that the culture surrounding free software is several decades ahead of the culture surrounding the arts.

The prohibition of museum photography is something that I believe turns art from a shared cultural artifact into a private commodity. This restriction turns a painting into an object where permission must be sought to do what comes naturally to myself and many of my peers: taking pictures of the cool things we see, and sharing the details online. Realizing that these private commodities live in publicly-funded museums only adds insult to injury. I can’t photograph what I paid for? The objects that are said to represent culture are locked out of the shared attitudes and practices that actually characterize our culture.

I am interested in culture, not commodities. Preventing images from being shared removes them from our shared cultural experience. To quote Cory Doctorow, “It’s not culture if you’re not allowed to talk about it.” Sending pictures back and forth and posting them online is how my generation talks about things.
Continue reading Take a Picture

Don’t Bother with Image Protection

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about reproductions of art, and why art can’t be photographed in many museums and galleries.
In part 1, I covered my teenage conspiracy theories about the prohibition of photography, while in part 2, I talked about learning the real reasons during my time in University. Then I switched gears for a bit and talked about image protection, listing some examples of bad ideas and good ideas.

In this entry, I will talk about the issue from a different angle. I will be asking something that should have been considered long before any time is spent on content protection schemes. That question is “Do painters even need to worry about infringement?”

I know, it sounds crazy. You might be thinking, “Kyle, I know you embrace the open source movement, free culture, the creative commons and all that, but this is our livelihood you’re talking about. Give it away! Are you mad?”
As artists, we own the rights to images we make; surely we must protect them, right?
Absolutely, we should protect our work, but I don’t believe that a blanket “All Rights Reserved!” model is necessarily the best approach for a painter to take.
Continue reading Don’t Bother with Image Protection

Why Reproductions Are Good for Art

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about why art can’t be photographed.
In this entry, I will ignore the issue of copyright, and taking pictures of art directly. Instead, I will talk about the reproduction of art in general. I will explain why I do not think that the reproduction of artworks is a bad thing. In fact, I will be arguing why I think that reproducing art is actually a very good thing.

Before I go forward with this argument, I would like to go back. Way back.
In the 1935 essay “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin wrote about the mechanical reproduction of art, and the damaging effect this had on tradition and value. Reproduction was seen as a threat to the authenticity of a piece of art. He made use of the word “aura” to describe this value.
Continue reading Why Reproductions Are Good for Art

Good Ideas for Protecting Your Images

After my last entry, Bad Ideas for Protecting Your Images, you might be thinking that I am against the idea of artists protecting their work. Absolutely not. I am only against bad ideas that either won’t work, are likely cost far more than they are worth, or will irritate your audience and potentially drive potential collectors away. Most of the methods I criticized earlier have some sort of negative impact on the audience. They take away from a viewer’s ability to enjoy the work while giving them nothing extra in return. The image protection methods that I would encourage make life easier for viewers.

Best of all, my recommendations are fairly cheap, quick and practical.
Continue reading Good Ideas for Protecting Your Images

An OCAD Grad Show Conversation

The last two entries, Why Can’t I Photograph Art, and Why Can’t I Photograph Art: Part 2 were inspired by a conversation I had back in May during the OCAD grad show.

           I was talking to one of the graduates. He was good. He had the pretentious B.S. down well enough to keep up with the art snobs, critics, and grant applications, but he also had legitimately interesting ideas to discuss with other artists. They were good ideas, and they inspired good paintings. It was going well, and I asked if I could see any more,

           Do you have a card? I asked him
           Nope.
           Perhaps a website, with a gallery section?
           Nope.
           A facebook fan page with a few uploaded images?
           Nope.
           Anything?
           Nope.

           This took me by surprise, because unlike so many artists, he seemed to have a concern for the business end of the art world as well as the studio end. But this huge critical piece of the puzzle was being left out completely.
           It had to be an oversight. Here was a young artist who had something going, and no website? No online presence of any kind? Was he a Luddite?
Continue reading An OCAD Grad Show Conversation

Why can’t I photograph art? part 2

Why can’t I photograph art?
           Why do some museums, galleries and artists object to having their artwork photographed?
           In my last entry, Why Can’t I Photograph Art, I described the event that sparked my interest in the subject of photographing artworks. I covered my thought process at the time, and described how my adolescent mind tried to figure out what reason their was for banning photography in museums and galleries. I didn’t get very far.

           It wasn’t until my University years that I discovered the real reason why artworks could not be photographed: Copyright Law
           So I now had the official, legal reason for not being allowed to photograph artworks, but this seemed strange to me. Copyright law makes sense for books, songs and movies. In these mediums, money is made by selling multiple copies of the same thing. With paintings, there are no copies; there is only one. A song can have multiple copies and be sold multiple times, but every painting is unique; it’s the only one like it in the whole world. I finally had my answer, but something about it didn’t sit right with me. Why would a one-of-a-kind object possibly need copyright protection?
Continue reading Why can’t I photograph art? part 2

Why Can’t I Photograph Art?

           Have you ever heard something that didn’t sound right, something that just seemed wrong, yet you were never able to point out exactly what was wrong with it? I’ve had that feeling many times, and every time I think I’ve got it figured out, another idea emerges to counter my previous understanding.
           For years, one question kept popping up in my mind, and I couldn’t find a good answer for it. That question was: Why can’t I photograph art?
           Why do some museums, galleries and artists object to having their artwork photographed?
Part of me always instinctively shied away from photographing photographs, something about that just felt wrong to me; I’d sketch those out.
           But paintings? Sculptures?
           What’s wrong with taking pictures of those art forms?
Continue reading Why Can’t I Photograph Art?