9.26.2011

Marketing Mondays: Out of Context. Or My Tale of the "Drippy Plaid"

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A friend emailed me the other day to say, "Your work has been taken out of context," and she included a few URLs. I was already aware of the websites. You'd like to think that when you post images of your work they're being seen by your colleagues in the art world:  your artist friends, as well as dealers, curators, critics and collectors. Well, let me tell you the story of my "Drippy Plaid."

A couple of years ago, just after I'd installed Google Alert, I was notified of a blog in which my work was featured. The gouache-on-paper painting was from my Joss series, one of a series of chromatic grids in which drips and irregular spacing energize a field of vertical and horizontal swipes. Somebody liked Joss 43 enough to pull the image from my website and post it on their own. I was identified as the artist. You can see it below. So far, so good. Now note the description, which I isolated and made larger.


The first appearance of a chromatic grid from my Joss series in a design website with description, below:


It seems my Joss series, particularly Joss 43, captured the imagination of some style blogs and over time began making the rounds. From "Pinterfest" (above) it traveled to "Stylebust" (below), where someone thought the "madras-inspired plaid" would look best "in the kitchen."  So my chromatic grid became a "drippy plaid" and then a "madras-inspired" plaid, and from there something, presumably, to go with the curtains, the tablecloth, or perhaps the dishtowels.



Then "Materialicious" (below) got hold of a different image, Joss 59, took it further out of context by lopping off the bottom, and identified it as a "black watch"--which any plaid enthusiast could tell you is defined by specific parameters of color and pattern, light years away from my chromatic grid--and as an "encaustic painting."  But why stop there? The caption writer decided that "artist Joanne Mattera loves the variety of colors found in a good criss-cross pattern!"  Actually, I do, but I wouldn't put it that way.





Finally "Me Melodia" (below) apparently feeling that the mere reference to plaid was not sufficient, went ahead and misconnected the dots from my art to a plaid shirt. This is classic "style page" stuff, but in a fashion or shelter magazine, the connection would not have been to a shirt that could have come from K-Mart. I've placed one screen grab above the other so that you can see the full, honking effect.




To be honest, I'm more concerned than upset. These "style" blogs are enthusiastic, if misguided, about my work. They do provide links to my website so that my work can be seen in the context in which it was intended. But the appearance of my work on these blogs is an object lesson not just for me, but for any one of us.

What happens when our work is taken out of context and put into one that disregards our intent?

Suppose one of those style people decided to create a line of plaid shirts inspired by my "madras-inspired plaids"?  Suppose an image of my work, or an image of yours, became placemats--millions of placemats--cranked out of a factory in China? Or shower curtains? Or screensavers? Or posters? Or turned up on a porn site?  Google Alerts can alert but it can't issue a cease and desist.

Are we posting too many images of our work?
Should we have a watermark in each image?
When does flattery turn into stalking or appropriation?

Today's post has no answers, just questions. Please weigh in. Have you experienced something similar? Or something nefarious? How have you handled it?

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28 comments:

Nancy Natale said...

That shirt is the worst! And how is that connected to your plaid? Not even close.

I haven't turned up on any style pages but my work does turn up on blogs. It's kind of fun as long as they link to me. My blog is also linked to many live lists. (I guess that's what you'd call it when the most recent post updates the list and readers can just click on it to read my blog.)

I'm not too worried about my work being replicated and watermarks really spoil the viewing, but if someone made placemats or shirts from my work, I'd like to see them.

Jane Davies said...

Hi Joanne,
I licensed my artwork for many years to manufacturers of all sorts, so I have pretty clear views of what is and isn't OK in appropriating images from another artist. I've given up licensing in favor of fine art (which I've done, separately, all along) and teaching, and my fine art is WAY different from the images I used to license. SO I come from both sides. I think when you put your images out there on the web you leave yourself open to misinterpretation. It is part of the cost of using the web as a tool. It is GREAT that the style sites linked back to your site so that people could see your work IN context. As for making a line of shirts "based on" your "drippy plaids" or other misinterpreted work, if it is a direct copy then you can sue for royalties or a flat design fee (and that is largely dependent on how much you want to spend on legal fees). If it is not an exact copy, then you are out of luck, except it might bring some attention to your work, IN context. OR, you could start designing the shirts or fabric yourself. (this is tongue in cheek, as I'm sure that's not what you had in mind). Do save the style pages, and if "Drippy Plaid" became a big hit, you might want to talk to a lawyer.

Jessica Mathews said...

Hi Joanne,
As frustrating as it is to see the work re-contextualized into something completely different than intended, it could be a compliment. It shows the work has enough depth, maybe in areas that the artist is unaware of, that it is relevant to many fields. It also contributes to the current conversations of copyright and authorship.

I think as long as these re-visualizations don't change the work's meaning to the artist than it will still reflect that substance. Otherwise it can be fun to watch how meaning might change depending upon the viewer.

ska said...

How does the "watermark" work and how does one "watermark" an image of an online painting/sculpture?

tackad said...

Actually, after your original dismay subsided, weren't you rather proud that your work, "works" outside-the-bun - so to speak?
Yes you do have a point - but congratulations on having your work seem by so many . . . .

tackad said...

and speaking of plaid - the following link is just the funniest artist's visual joke.
just wonderful.

http://www.todayandtomorrow.net/2010/05/10/hank-schmidt-in-der-beek/

Ben Stansfield said...

of course, I haven't had this problem yet, but I imagine I'd have the saem reaction: flattered to be mentioned, and then put off by the fact that the discussion about my work has, y'know, nothing to do with my work.

It would have been nice to be asked what your work is about, but that probably wouldn't have made very good copy, and it seems that your imagery was reduced to a 'sight bite', to adapt a phrase...

Joanne Mattera said...

You all have to cut and paste the link Tackad provided. Pretty funny.

But, seriously, where are the folks whose work has been wrenched out of context? (I don't find it flattering, but I also realize that it's not a huge problem--though as Jane says, "When you put your images out there on the web you leave yourself open to misinterpretation."

Eva said...

My collages and paintings used to grace the backgrounds of many Myspace pages. It was hard to keep up. And no credit either. Sometimes sites would post and discuss and again, no credit. There's less of that now...

I don't think my images have been "re-interpreted" in the way your have.... But I have had my work credited to another artist. They'll go through my site, lift an image and credit the collage to Hannah Hoch! - because I wrote about her, I guess, and they don't really read english and don't bother to figure out what is what. Conversely, I've also seen a Richard Hamilton work credited to me (which really doesn't feel good either).

kim matthews said...

There's no good answer for this. Watermarks are intrusive and I think they're a big sign that says "I'm suspicious," which seems hostile and potentially off-putting to the 99% of other people who just want to see, not steal. On the other hand, it sucks to have people who don't get your work (and don't care to) capitalizing on your efforts and risking your reputation by associating you with something you'd never endorse. I'm afraid that outright theft or mimicry just comes with the territory and unless you have deep pockets and a high-powered lawyer, it's best to just let it roll off your back. But then I'm the person who decided not to make waves with a certain t.v. show because I figured that some exposure is better than none-even if I didn't get credit on the air (;

Oriane Stender said...

People very often get my titles wrong, or use a title from another piece of mine or make up a little catchphrase that then looks like it's my title. I figure no one else really pays attention to these things, so I don't sweat the small stuff. What bothers me more is when people writing about my work (IN context, like in an exhibition review) give inaccurate info. It bothers me because it makes me feel that they're not really looking at the work. OK, not everyone looks closely at the details, but if you're writing about the work, can you look close enough to correctly identify the materials and technique? But eh, I'm used to people not really paying attention.

Kim, what happened with your work and a tv show?

Stephanie Hoff Clayton said...

So many things wrong here...

When fine art is taken out of context in such a way as this, it greatly devalues the work, the artist's intent and his/her creative process.

My work has been misinterpreted (mostly in written articles) by well-meaning but misguided persons including art professionals who ought to know better. And no, it is not flattering.

It's annoying at best but in your case, definitely cause for concern.

I agree with commenter Kim Matthews about watermarks. I don't like them.

mariandioguardi.com said...

To take your image and make a place mat out of it is a copy right violation. You have all rights to all derivative works.that is protected.

I actually had an artist in CA copy two paintings and sell them as her own. Such is the price of website visibility. It cut both ways. She found my work to copy and I found her copies!

Her excuse was ..I couldn't resist the colors. I chose to let It go then but now I would bring down legal action. If I only knew then what I know now.

Anonymous said...

My website person says you don't need large jpeg images for your site. Keep images small (under 1mb, maybe 1,000 pixels larges dimension, 600 is good enough for most applications), 72dpi maximum.
This limits how how big the images can be reproduced, and also helps the images load faster for viewers.

Franklin said...

As long as they link and get the info right, I'm okay with it. I decided at the outset that people were allowed to like my work for any reason, including reasons I thought were a little dumb. Half of these style blogs are going to be gone in six months anyway.

Obviously if they reuse material for money or claim credit, that's a different story. The edge case is if the image shows up without much commentary on a page with a lot of ads. The deciding factor for me is whether the blogger identifies himself. If not, it's probably an ad farm.

Anonymous said...

Posting a 72 dpi image versus a 96 dpi image isn't going to curtail theft; it's only going to make your images suboptimal for newer browsers and it would be bad web design to post anything big enough for print because it slows load time. Everyone should have copyright notices on their websites and from there it's a question of choosing one's battles. Last year a woman wrote to me asking a bunch of questions about an artist whose work I sell and when I told her that the artist was unidentified and that I was working with a well-known expert in our field on trying to identify the artist and publish our findings, she promptly stole all my images and a bunch of my text and then had the stones to send me a draft of her "book" for review. She was so stupid I couldn't even be mad at her; I honestly don't think she knew what she'd done. Without my high-res photos and my blessing, she had nothing and as far as I know she's published just that.

mariandioguardi.com said...

You don't need copyright notices to have full protection but it helps if you want to take action. You can also file your art work with the Copyright office for $ 35 a filing on line. It's not that difficult to set up an account.

For instance, you can copy right a series , say "Silk Road Series" of twenty paintings for one $35 filing fee. Again, you don't need a filing to be entitled to protection but it makes taking any legal action easy. However, you must have legal claim to the work as it's author or creator.

Rachel said...

If it's really important to you to keep others from hot linking to your images, you can use something like htaccess to prevent hot linking. But there are always ways around it, like taking a screen grab of the image. One way to make sure you get credit is to add your name, website, and/or the name of the piece to the image you are posting--similar to a watermark but more legible and prominent.

Paintings said...

I kind of like that shirt!
Thanks for this post!

Elena De La Ville said...

Joanne: Several years ago I was informed by a friend that she had found her and my images in a site in China that was selling reproductions and posters and anything else people wanted to buy.
I pursued the matter and the pieces were taken down, but I check once in a while to make sure they are not there.
I always use low res images for the web and when people are interested I can/will send out a high res image so they can see the details and possibly buy… But, I know who has received them and who has not.
Also… Goggle is finally (after any years of wishing) able to do an image search from an actual image. It is still basic, but it is a start.

karoline said...

I like your fantastic web site!

Anonymous said...

Once you send your work out into the world, you no longer control it. It leaves you, and has its own life with other people.

Gwenn said...

Culture is created by imperfect imitations over time, and this drippy plaid deal is a beautiful example of it! Copyright gets in the way of the essential mechanism of culture-making--imitation--and that threatens artists on a fundamental level.

I've had my work remixed and copied here and there over the years and I've come up with a way of dealing that doesn't use copyright. Interestingly, part of the way of dealing (as I see it) is blogging about the people who remix your work in order to keep your voice in the conversation. It's what smart artists do. :)

Anonymous said...

Always an interesting issue. Context IS important. But Joanne, I have noticed in many of your past blog posts that you have included photographs without the photographer's name, and just the text "from the Internet" as if that were a credit. Are you re-thinking that policy?

Carolyn

Joanne Mattera said...

Carolyn:

As often as possible, I not only include the photgrapher's name but a link to the site where I found the image. When that's not possible--a link doesn't lead to the image, for instance; or there's no credit; or multiple links going back to an anonymous source--then I write "From the Internet."

On one or two occasions, someone cintacted me to say, "That's my image. Please credit me." Done!
And once I got an email from library in England telling me I needed to take the image down pronto. I did.

Norman Soskel said...

Joanne, being a photographer, I've usually placed a watermark with my copyright and a date at the bottom of each image I place on the internet. I know this may interrupt the flow of the image, etc. but it does help cut down on people copying the entire image. I also usually use low to mid resolution images that really look bad when enlarged enough to be useful. It's a shame we have to go to such lengths because of a few bad apples but that's just the world we live in and we have to adapt to it. I've recently started a blog (normansoskel.blogspot.com) but it's rather rudimentary compared with yours and I tend to ramble a lot more. Hope you have time to look at a few of the photos of my recent family exhibit.

Aron said...

I don't like watermarks, but I still use them. I have a set Photoshop file that I alter according to the picture I'm putting it on.

As for being taken out of context, I don't think I'm relevant enough for that yet...

Scott said...

Hi Joanne,

This has not happened to me with my work, but my writing about art and posts from my blog site are taken all the time. I don't mind it at all, because when I write, I am just doing it to get the word out about artists I feel are great.

It is a little strange to see my posts on another site, word for word, without any reference to me... written as if it is the other persons words. And it is not such a great feeling when I see my stuff up on sites that generate income.

Keep up the great work.