Art and the Economics of Giving

Online picture of a free poster and ATC - Imagination by Aisling D'Art

Are your usual fans in a temporary financial jam? In recent years, that’s been sadly commonplace.

The fact is, as of 2011, Half of Americans don’t have $2000 for a rainy day.

In an emergency, even with 30 days to come up with $2000, only 25% of Americans are sure they could beg, borrow or steal that much money.

If you’re in business, you need to know your potential audience and customers. In 2011, if your usual fans & collectors are among 75% of Americans, they can’t buy your $1500 painting, wall hanging or assemblage, no matter how gorgeous it is.

Sure, your art may be worth that much or more. Value isn’t the issue here.

The more pertinent questions are:

  • Do your business practices make your future customers feel better or worse about themselves?
  • Do they like how they feel around you and (especially) around your art?  
  • Do you have rapport with them?

If they don’t feel that sense of mutual understanding on a personal level — even as artist-to-customer — they won’t be as open to connecting with what your art communicates.

Sure, you can focus on the minority who can afford your art. That may be a smart tactic, for now.

However, that probably shouldn’t be your exclusive focus.  Even if you don’t put as much time into laying a foundation with the rest of your audience, they’re still important to your future as a successful artist.

Reaching the 75%

If you’re meeting some of that 75% at art shows, galleries, or even as you’re running errands — and hope to attract them as clients, customers and collectors in the future, when they’re back on their feet — now is the time to establish rapport. They’ll remember it later.

Think about what you can do, so they feel a connection with you right now. What can you give or sell to them that they can own, and — at the same time — help them feel better about themselves?

Even if the person can’t purchase any of your art right now, he or she should walk away thinking, “That art is so great.  I’m going to own some of that, some day.”

Contrast that with the sad, “That art is beautiful, and yet another thing I can’t afford. Maybe I never will.”

See the difference?

So, make it possible for the person to connect with your art and feel good about it, right now.

The importance of gifts

FREE Product Samples for home and officeWhether it’s a happy conversation, a free art postcard (like VistaPrint’s freebies, which I use), a link to a webpage where they can download something… make sure you connect with your friends and fans, and they remember it as a happy meeting.

This isn’t a reciprocity thing.  It’s not, “I’ll give you this now, and you agree to give me something in return, later.”

The gift economy is a little different.  It’s about bonding as individuals, and as a community, to establish a personal connection and goodwill for the sake of the group and each other, period.

What do you get out of this?  You get to be part of a happier, more connected community in a happier, more connected world.

You get the satisfaction of having done something good.  Too often, that’s vastly underrated.

Remain sensitive to what’s really going on, despite appearances.

It’s important to stay current about the world in general.  Use other people’s surveys (such as the article linked above) to understand your audience and what’s going on with them.

Right now, the global economy is in transition.  This effects artists as much as anyone else, and perhaps more than most.

This is your opportunity to do something nice and helpful… and be remembered for it.

Everyone wins!

Pave the road to your successful future.

It’s fine to focus on people with cash who also like your art.  That’s common sense.

However, pave the road for your continuing success — and invest a little happy karma — by making it possible for everyone to own some of your art, right now.

It’s not difficult.  It may require a little creativity, but you can do it.

(Note: If you liked my graphic at the top of this article, it’s a free download.  You can click on the image or here to download it as a 5″ x 7″ poster.  If you collect ATCs, click here for that free download.)

To understand more about
our economy and the importance of gifts
be sure to read Linchpin by Seth Godin

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Copyright, Flickr and Google Images

Gummy worms, photo by shinjaejun (USA), shinjaejun.comWell, my recents posts on the topic of copyright — especially related to Flickr and Google Images — seem to have opened a can of worms.

I did a little more research so I could refer people to the best resources & opinions I could find.

Here they are:

Flickr photos and images are not in the public domain. The photos and images are generally copyrighted.  Some members of Flickr choose to release some of their rights via Creative Commons licensing, and you can search the photos for pictures that are okay to use.

There are several copyright-related threads at the Flickr forum.  Click here to read one of the best replies, by joepphoto.

Combination lock - photo by Linusb4, AustraliaHere’s one of the clearest explanations of what’s what at Flickr:  Understanding Copyright on Flickr.

(Flickr itself, and its parent company, Yahoo, default to the normal rules of copyright as outlined by the U.S. government.  And frankly, that’s fine.  Flickr shouldn’t have to repeat the laws.)

Google Images are usually copyrighted, as well.  Google aggregates (or “scrapes” or collects) images from all over the Internet, the same as they post the titles of webpages, and summaries or excerpts of them.

  • Nobody’s webpage is automatically in the public domain because Google indexed it.
  • Nobody’s photos are automatically in the public domain because they’re among the visual indices at Google Images.

Bootleg video recording, photo by Piotr Ciuchta, ScotlandA copyright thread at Digitalpoint includes good answers and some stupid ones.  Correctly attributing ownership is not enough to meet copyright laws.

That’d be like someone copying a recent movie and thinking it’s okay because all the credits are intact in the copy they added to a torrent site.

(Oh. Wait.  People do that.)

Google explains the rights pretty clearly.  In a nutshell, you have permission to view the images in Google Images.  You don’t automatically have permission to copy and use them.

However, you can use some of the Advanced filters to find images — in Google Images — with Creative Commons licensing.

Highlighted in yellow on the page linked above, Google reminds people to verify the exact terms of using images that appear at Google Images, even when the images bear Creative Commons licensing.

Here’s what Google says:

Before reusing content that you’ve found, you should verify that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse stated in the license. For example, most licenses require that you give credit to the image creator when reusing an image. Google has no way of knowing whether the license is legitimate, so we aren’t making any representation that the content is actually or lawfully licensed. [Link]

I hope that helps explain what people can & can’t do with your images, and what’s okay (and not) if you’d like to use someone else’s images in your art or other products.

Personally, I’m rabidly enthusiastic about Creative Commons licensing.  I’ll talk about that in a later post.

For now, I’ve ordered the following book. I want to see suggestions about apparent conflicts between unbridled creativity and the copyrights of those who’ve created works of seminal (= strongly influencing later developments) importance.

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While I’m Talking About Public Domain…

Never underestimate the value of the U.S. government when it comes to surreal and absurd images, many of which are in the public domain.

I mean it.  And, if you’re easily offended, or if the subject of VD bothers you, avert your eyes.

1940s poster from the U.S. government (Artist, "Christian")Seriously, this poster (at right) appears to be in the public domain.  (See notes at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.) You can download a 4MB copy of it at the gov’t website.

I can see so many very wrong uses for that image.  I’d like to put it on a tee shirt, except that I want to replace the VD words with… something else.  I’m not sure what, yet.

I look at her and think, “Really? I mean really? Is that what men found alluring in the 1940s?”

However, that’s not the only image of its kind. A search at the gov’t website using the phrase “venereal disease” turns up all kinds of strange posters of apparently dangerous women.

She may look clean...Check out the sweet girl in the poster on the left.  (Click on the image for the full, print-quality image at the NLM.)

Wasn’t she a famous movie star?  She looks really familiar… like someone I’ve seen in old movies.  Well, now we know about her history!

I’m amused by the phrase “‘good time’ girls.”  It makes me wonder, were there “bad time” girls?

That poster is in the public domain.

1944 - beware waterThe next poster for your consideration (or amusement) is about clean water.  Gosh, it looks like our boys were dealing with all kinds of dangers in the 1940s… wasn’t war enough?

Because that was produced specifically for government use, I’m pretty sure it’s in the public domain.

Click the image to see a really large copy of it.  There may be even bigger versions in the NLM files.

(Of course, if you’re going to use it for a product, it’s smart to research the provenance at the NLM website.)

And, so it’s not all one-step-away-from-zombies, at left is an early poster that has a lot of possibilities if you’d like to alter it for a political statement.

This one is from 1917, so it’s almost certainly in the public domain.  (Most – but not all – American works from before 1923 are now in the public domain.)

If you have questions about copyright law and what’s in the public domain, one of my favorite resources is Cornell’s chart about copyright terms and limits.

 

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Copyright and Free, Royalty-Free Resources… again!

emu photo
Image courtesy of FreeImages.com

Many people — perhaps most people online today — don’t know how copyright laws work.

I know no one who deliberately breaks copyright laws.

But yes… some people believe that anything online is okay to borrow, at least for personal or one-time use.

After all, everyone else is doing that, so it must be legal… right?

Umm, no. Really. No.

I’M NOT A LAWYER

I’m not an attorney.  My interpretations of the law are my own opinions, not legal advice.

Also, even judges don’t seem to agree on copyright law.  How harshly you’re treated, if caught, can vary from one courtroom to the next.

WHY I CARE

I’m an artist.  Since the mid-1990s, when I created my first website — gosh, was that really over 20 years ago? — my own images have been stolen.

The tragedy is, I usually give permission when someone asks, first.  I was thrilled when one of my original photos was used for a record album cover. But, the band asked permission.

I go directly to the webmaster when I find someone using one of my illustrations illegally.  Most people quickly (and apologetically) remove the image from their websites.

However, a few balk.  They insist they bought the image from someone else, as part of a package, so they think the image is in the public domain now.

Or they found the image at Flickr.  Or something.

That’s when I contact the person’s website hosting service. Usually, the hosting service shuts down every website that person has.  They’re banned.

Nobody’s happy, and it didn’t have to conclude that way.

I’ve written several popular articles about copyright, the “three stroke” myth, and how copyright law affects artists.  Some of that information may apply to you.  My original article is at https://aisling.net/copyright-and-the-three-stroke-rule/ , along with several other copyright-related articles.

I also teach artists, including photographers, how to protect their images so they can prove they’re the original creators of the respective works.

It’s a simple technique: I remove about 1/2 inch on at least two sides of the original image, before I post it online.  When the hosting service asks me to prove it’s my original graphic, I can show them the larger version that has never appeared online. So far, that’s always worked.

Others use techniques such as digital watermarking: http://www.digitalwatermarkingalliance.org/default.asp

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Maybe you shrug off copyright laws.  If you don’t know anyone who’s been caught “borrowing” images, and you haven’t felt the anguish of seeing your own work stolen, maybe it’s no big deal.

However, if you’re breaking the law, it’s only a matter of time until you’re caught.

Today, software can identify images being used illegally online.  Art museums use this technology to protect their images, online.

Just like Google Image Search, the specialized software recognizes distinctive elements in original graphics and scours the Internet looking for any matches.

Once you’re caught by someone who has deep pockets or an attorney with whiplash mentality… heaven help you.

You’re playing a dangerous game if you’re using photos or artwork without permission.

USE LEGAL IMAGES INSTEAD

There is no reason to use illegal images in any product, including website design.

There are many great, public domain images online.  Pre-1923 images are generally (but not always) safe to use.  You can find them online; Wikipedia often features gorgeous public domain images by famous artists such as John William Waterhouse.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_William_Waterhouse

Many (but not all) works on the United States’ government website are in the public domain.  https://search.usa.gov/search/images

Some modern-day graphic artists & photographers have released some or all of their rights.  Some websites include modern, public domain photos, such as http://www.4freephotos.com/

You can also find great, legal images — with various licenses to use them — via Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/image/

And, here’s a mother lode of free image resources (or kinda-sorta free, so read the fine print): Almost 100 Free and Freemium Stock Image Websites.

Those are just some of many great resources for free, completely legal, royalty-free images.  (Remember: The images are still copyrighted. You’re simply given permission to use the images without paying a fee.)

Stock.xchng was one of my favorites.  No matter what the name of the site is now, if the option is offered: be sure to search with “Restricted OK” set to “NO.”  http://www.sxc.hu/

Morgue File (not what it sounds like), also called MFile, is another great resource.  Like Stock.xchng, be sure to check the licensing terms for each image.  http://www.morguefile.com/

Most free, royalty-free websites also offer higher-quality images for a fee.  The fee can be as low as $1 with unlimited use rights, and that often depends on the size of the image you want (for online or print use) and whether you’ll be reproducing it on tee-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.

Or, if you found an image — like one of mine — through an image scraper or photo-sharing site, it’s easy to double-check the owner (and the rights to that image).

Browser plugins like Search by Image for Google make it right-click easy.

Then, ask the owner for permission to use the image in your project.  Many of us are happy to say yes.

The best idea of all?  Take your own photos.  Practice makes perfect (or at least good enough), you don’t need to get a photography degree… though you could.  And, once you’re comfortable with your camera, consider adding your photos to sites like iStockPhoto.com and earn money from them.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve been using images without permission. 99% of the people I teach or consult for have no idea they’ve been doing anything wrong. This includes respected artists including photographers and illustrators.

What’s important is to use legal images as much as you can, starting right away.  The Internet is always changing, and copyright law is becoming a far greater issue across the online community.

Besides, there is no reason to copy others’ graphics without permission.  There are many wonderful, free resources for great images.  Use them instead.

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Want to reprint this?  You can.  It’s free.  This work by Aisling D’Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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