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
           Perhaps a website, with a gallery section?
           A facebook fan page with a few uploaded images?

           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?

           No, he was fairly tech savvy. His reason for avoiding the internet: Fear of infringement. He didn’t want to put his images online because he hadn’t figured out a way to protect them from being copied.
           He knew there were ways of doing it, but he wasn’t sure how to implement them. (note: These ways don’t actually work, it might be possible to disable “right click + save image”, but “print screen” still works)
           I had just met this guy, and I didn’t want to turn a friendly conversation into an argument, but I also didn’t want to see is work fade into obscurity because no one could find him.

           A third person joined our conversation at this point. Her stuff was also quite interesting. Not quite to my taste, but it was very well executed, and it was original, she wasn’t chasing a trend. I respect that. My reservations towards her work was its inconsistency. I mean that in the best possible way. Rather than having a narrow focus like most of her peers, her body of work was eclectic. It’s hard to get a good feel for an eclectic painter when only five pieces are available. I needed to see more before I could make up my mind on this artist.
           Do you have a website? I asked.
           “Of course!” was her reply
           Oh, that’s excellent, I said. There’s a lot going on in your work, and I’m not sure that I get it right now, so seeing more of it would help me out quite a bit.
           “Oh, I don’t have any pictures up on my website”
           What? then why do you have a…
           “I don’t want people infringing my images!”
           Then what do you have on your website?
           “My C.V. thesis paper, and artist statement.”
Oh, wonderful. I prefer to avoid artists statements wherever possible. More often than not, these statements cause me to think less of the art than I had before reading it. Art is a visual language. If an artist needs to fall back on words to explain what their art cannot, their art has failed; either make better art, or switch over to the English department.

Why don’t you have any images of your art on your artist’s website? It’s a website that exists solely to promote your art!
You don’t want people infringing your images?
I guess you also don’t want people to ever see your images.

           She has the same concern that this first guy had, and she expressed that concern using the same words that he did. OCAD’s professional practices course must be focusing on copyright a whole lot more these days than it did back in 2005 when I was taking the course.
           And what are they telling these kids? From what I’ve just heard, it sounds like they are telling them: Don’t let anyone copy your images. Ever. Protect your images. Protect your intellectual property. Protect your copyrights.
           There are certainly cases where this is good advice, but there also situations where this is not good advice. When it comes to promoting your work, thats a place where you want people to have access to it.

           I hope I am not creating a false dichotomy here, but with what I have heard so far, I have the impression that these students have the mindset that there is a choice before them; one between obscurity and protection from infringement, or exposure with infringement. And they have been told that obscurity is better the way to go.
           Remember the words of Cory Doctorow in my previous post, My Take on “A Copyright Story” “It’s hard to monetize fame. It’s impossible to monetize obscurity.”

          Is it worth toiling in obscurity, just to avoid the risk of having your intellectual property infringed upon? Or should you risk having your work infringed for the chance at some good exposure?

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Kyle Clements

Kyle Clements is a Toronto-based artist and nerd. During his thesis at the Ontario College of Art and Design, Kyle began working on his Urban Landscapes series, a body of work that aims to capture the energy and excitement of life in the fast-paced urban environment. After graduating from OCAD in 2006, Kyle spent a year living in Asia to gather source material and experience in a different kind or urban environment. His work is vibrant and colourful. Whether painting the harsh Northern landscape, or capturing the overwhelming buzz of life in the city, his acrylic paintings hover between representation and abstraction.