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?
In the last entry, I introduced you to the reason for my recent focus on taking pictures of art: My next art project is about this very topic. These are the ideas that have been dominating my thoughts lately. It’s what I’ve been thinking about; it’s what I’ve been talking about; therefore, it’s what I’ve been writing about.
When I’m working on something, I like to completely immerse myself in ideas surrounding the topic I’m dealing with in the artwork. I usually start with a very clear and focused thought that I want to develop. I work out the basics, and create a rough sketch or guide to work with. That rough plan must be very flexible, because I find that the ideas I develop throughout production are far more interesting than the initial thought that started the whole thing. I’ve got to anticipate some unexpected turns on my journey to completion. Countless little choices pop up during the process of actually making a finished piece, and I believe that having the right ideas floating around in my head can inform the decisions that I make, and the result is a much stronger finished product.
Well, that’s the idea at least.
The final paragraph of the last entry listed some of the points I wish to raise with “Take a Picture”, but I didn’t actually talk about how I was approaching those issues.
In this entry, I will break down that final paragraph, and expand on each of those points.
Continue reading Expanding on ‘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
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
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
The last several posts have been inspired by a conversation I had with several recent graduates at the 2010 OCAD grad show.
Their work was good, and I was interested in seeing more. When I asked if images of their work was available on their websites, I discovered that they both refused to show any samples of their work on-line due to fears of copyright infringement. This struck me as backwards. Hiding their art from the world seems like the exact opposite of what any young, emerging artist should want.
One of the artists said that he had every intension of making his work available, but he would only do this once he had figured out some technical copy-protection tools.
In this entry, I will discuss my objections to several different technical copy-restriction techniques, and propose some examples of what I think are better alternatives.
Continue reading Bad Ideas for Protecting Your Images
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