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Fine Art Appropriation and the Culture of Taking

Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 29, 2014

Recently the science and science fiction blog io9 posted on article that hit a nerve with illustrators.  In “How a Science Fiction Book Cover Became a $5.7 Million Painting,” Charlie Jane Anders reported on the sale of artist Glenn Brown’s 1994 painting, “Ornamental Despair (Painting for Ian Curtis)”. What hit a nerve with illustrators is that the painting is a faithful copy of  scifi illustrator Charlie Foss’ cover art for Isaac Asimov’s book Stars Like Dust. In light of continuous highly publicized cases of fine artists appropriating and profiting from the work of illustrators and photographers (Richard Prince, Shephard Fairey, Jeff Koons, etc), the ire is warranted.

Images © Charlie Foss (left) and Glenn Brown (right)

Glenn Brown's painting (right) is unmistakeably derived from Charlie Foss' original illustration. Images © the artists.

However, as with any circumstance that inflames, it’s advisable to take a closer look at the facts of the case. This is exactly what artist Glendon Mellow did in his  article ”How Plagiarized Art Sells for Millions“ on the Scientific American blog “Symbiartic.” Mellow first summarizes the history of contemporary art from Modernism through the “Internetz”, tracing the practice of appropriating cultural imagery through iconic artists such as Robert Indiana and Andy Warhol. He then revisits Brown’s offending painting, pointing out that what is lost in the translation to web is an understanding of the difference in scale and detail between the painting and the original illustration.

Anders then issued a follow-up article, in which she clarified the details of the story: Brown had received permission from Foss before creating the painting, and didn’t see a single penny from the recent sale. Some comments on the article have pointed out that Brown could have credited the original illustrator in the painting title – many works are labeled “After…” in recognition of the original source. However, as Mellow points out, the current state of affairs, in which fine artists churn out mediocre work largely based on others’ original creations, is a reflection of the our culture of mash-ups and repinning, reposting, and reblogging, with no thought to crediting the original authors. As Mellow wrote, “Fine art culture is holding up a big expensive mirror at you and Internet culture right now.”

Brought to our attention by @ColleenDoran.

Web Design Trends for 2014

Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 26, 2014

It’s the first month of the year, and all our favorite web gurus and resources have been issuing their predictions for 2014. The opinions range, of course. An expert in responsive design, for example, is going to identify different innovative trends than a developer working on creating a new content management system. While reading through the slew of advice, certain predictions kept cropping up. Below are the most frequently mentioned trends taken from an informal survey of webdesign blogs:

Flat design: 
Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Apple’s iOS7 dropped skeumorphism, and the design world celebrated. Almost every blog predicts that flat design will continue to be popular in web design, permitting the focus to be on the website text, with fewer and less distracting images. Web designer Joseph Howard of Pencil Scoop speculates that flat design will evolve into layered design as a way of creating more textured, distinctive layouts. Envato’s CEO Collis Ta’eed sees an upswing on trends such as long shadows, and also predicts layering and gradients applied subtly so as not to detract from the flat sensibility.

Video and motion:
Almost every web design trend article predicted an upsurge in the use of video.  Chris Lake, Director of Content of Econsultancy, and Matt Hall of Web Ascender see video backgrounds becoming more prevalent as newer browsers and faster page load speed enables their use. (For a beautiful example, Lake points to The Guardian’s online article, “The Firestorm.”)  Amber Leigh Turner on The Next Web predicts video will be utilized more often as a hero graphic in lieu of a banner image or slide show, while Howard sees room for video use to grow in blogging, Google hangouts, and news services. While parallax effects (slideshows and scrolling) have been around for a while, both Howard and Webascender predict their usage will continue to grow and become more mainstream in the websites of more prominent, established companies. Front-end designer Jonathan Cutrell on Webdesign Tuts+ sees a rise in animated and responsive icons, creating a new trend in user experience.

Design for mobile devices / increased scrolling:
It’s not a surprise that web design gurus see design for mobile devices continuing to increase in importance. Craig Butler, Director of OptimalWorks Ltd, predicts that from 2013 to 21014, mobile access will increase from one in five web visits to one in four.  Both Benjie Moss of Wedesigner Depot and Dan Rowinski, Mobile Editor at ReadWrite, predict the long-anticipated death of the mobile web, the development of a secondary website designed to work exclusively on mobile devices. Moss doesn’t see this as an entirely good thing, pointing out that some businesses (such as restaurants) may prefer to direct content differently for desktop versus mobile viewers. The increased viewing on mobile devices has re-familiarized website visitors with scrolling, which is facilitated by swiping. As a result, Hall, Turner, and Lake all see longer scrolling sites becoming acceptable again, and outdated terminology such as “above the fold” being finally dropped.

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics):
Another prevalent prediction is the increased use of SVG, in part driven by the popularity of icons. As Moss points out, SVG icons have a huge advantage, in that they are more efficient than icon font files, are responsive, and fit with the popular flat design sensibility. Animated SVGs, already popular as icons, will become more prevalent; Howard cites a number of tools and sources which ease their implementation.  (Howard also predicts the death of the raster icon, in part because of the availability of SVG and icon fonts.)   Cutrell highlights a beautiful example of SVG created by fixate.it, and sees the development of accessible tools for the creation of infovis (graphical representations of data).

Other web design trends include the increased use of CSS to generate imagery, the prevalence of larger images, both as hero images (replacing slide shows) and as backgrounds, the integration of more interesting typography, and the use of fixed headers. Check out our list of references below to read the predictions in full:

Fizz or Fame: 10 Design Trend Predictions For 2014, Joseph Howard, Pencil Scoop

2014 Predictions for Web Design, Collis Ta'eed, Envato

18 pivotal web design trends for 2014, Chris Lake, Econsultancy

14 Website Trends for 2014, Matt Hall, Web Ascender

10 Web design trends you can expect to see in 2014, Amber Leigh Turner, The Next Web

Web Design 2014: What to Watch Out For, Jonathon Cutrell, Webdesign Tuts+

10 Web Predictions for 2014, Craig Bulter, sitepoint

7 web design trends you’ll actually see this year (and how to survive them), Benjie Moss, Webdesigner Depot

In 2014, The Mobile Web Will Die—And Other Mobile Predictions, Dan Rowinski, ReadWrite

2013: Laying the Groundwork for Copyright Review

Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 23, 2014

Terry Hart of the Copyright AllianceIn A Look Back at Copyright Review in 2013, Terry Hart of the Copyright Alliance outlines the groundwork which could provide a basis for a fundamental review of US copyright law. The Copyright Act of 1976 is outdated – the last large amendment to the act was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. In March of 2013, in a lecture given at Columbia University, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante issued a call for a comprehensive overhaul of US copyright law. Shortly afterwards, she was invited to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the topic.

The Committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, made copyright review a high priority, and scheduled numerous hearings throughout the year. The first covered an academic project, “The Copyright Principles Project”, which sought to find consensus among a number of legal educators on copyright review.  It was a disappointment for artists that not one creator was invited to testify. Following the theme, “Innovation in America,” the two subsequent hearings covered “The Role of Copyrights” and “The Role of Technology”. Copyright Alliance Executive Director Sandra Aistars testified at the first these hearings, arguing that copyright for creators is about empowerment, choice, and freedom.

A fourth hearing by the committee covered the “Role of Voluntary Agreements in the US Intellectual Property System” — private initiatives to address piracy and counterfeiting (but unfortunately not the role of search engines in facilitating piracy). At their final hearing on copyright issues, the committee addressed “The Rise of Innovative Business Models: Content Delivery Methods in the Digital Age.” This last hearing, according to the Alliance, “saw perhaps the most substantive discussion of copyright doctrine so far.”

Other government agencies were also very active in the copyright review arena. The Department of Commerce released “Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation on the Digital Economy”, a paper produced jointly by both US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the National Telelcommunications and Information Administration which gave a substantive review of copyright law. The paper was three years in the making, and addressed the question of whether current copyright law is addressing the needs of creators in light of rapid technological advances in computing and networking. In October, the USPTO asked for input from stakeholders on key issues identified in the paper, such as statutory damages for secondary infringement and individual filesharers, and improving the notice and takedown system.

The Copyright Office also released two reports on copyright issues. The first recommended the establishment of a small claims court within the office. (The Guild testified before the Copyright Office on the small claims issue and is quoted in the report.) The second report recommended the establishment of a resale royalty on original works of fine art, as is currently done in 70+ countries worldwide. 2014 promises to continue to be an active year in copyright review; the Judiciary Committee has already scheduled three hearings on the topic in January.

Portrait of Terry Hart used with his permission.

Is that a Cell Phone in Your Leotard? — How Superheroes Use Social Media

Posted by Rebecca Blake on December 30, 2013

Batman Tweets, © Ed ShemsEd Shems, the illustrator behind EdNedFred (and former Boston Guild President), has answered a question for today: How would superheroes use social media? Shems’ answer spans the world of social media, from picture sharing to status updates. For example, in the superhero universe, Batman pauses during a particularly satisfying bust to take a selfie, Superman is outed as Clark Kent when his cell phone responds to a text from Lois, and Spiderman (poor Spidey!) doesn’t have many Facebook Likes.

The series started as a doodle in Shems’ sketchbook, and took on a life of its own. Shems is selling prints of his series on Etsy. We hope there’s more to come — after all, surely Wonderwoman is on Google+.

Too Close for Comfort: the Pitfalls of Designing your Own Identity

Posted by Rebecca Blake on December 27, 2013

Jord Riekwel, the proprietor of the design firm Larkef in the Netherlands, has written a thought-provoking article on the pitfalls of designing your own logo. Although he is a logo designer by trade, Jord discovered that he was at an impasse in designing his own identity. His own designs were lackluster, and he felt he needed another pair of eyes. So he hired “lettering artist” Sergey Shapiro, who created the warm, flowing Larkef logo.

Jord cautions creatives to not assume they can do it all, but to recognize they are not “polymaths”. After failed attempts at his own website design, and afer producing sloppy, trite copy, he hired a website developer and a professional copywriter to take on those two tasks. His take-away:  “Invest money in good design. Hire a proper logo designer, web designer, copywriter, or photographer. You won’t regret it.”

Below: Larkef logo sketches by designer Sergey Shapiro.

Larkef logo sketches by designer Sergey Shapiro.

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