SOFA Chicago lectures Feed

Sharing Quality Images for Critical Writing and Discussion

Foundation WallArtists and Makers are the foundation of the arts and crafts community. Whether for personal benefit or for community support, the images of your work provide a crucial mode of communication.


Consuming Conversation © 2004
"Never Let Your Ideas Decieve You From
The Real Truth"

Post consumer recycled tin cans,
bronze handle,
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

From a range of persepctives, several speakers at SOFA Chicago (including Susan Cummins, Garth Clark, Bruce Metcalf and Janet Koplos) emphasized that critical writing and dialogs are vital to raise the consciousness of craft media and that visual communication with quality photographic images is an essential component.

41OiZd-LhGL._SL160_ The importance of great photographic images for your art or craft along with adequate documentation was stressed by Bruce Metcalf and Janet Koplos, authors of the book Makers: A History of American Studio Craft. When starting the book they thought they would be overwhelmed by the quantity of images and the task of deciding which photos to use in their very important book Makers.

However, it turned out that the images in the book were often chosen from which images were available and acceptable, rather than from an excess of images.  How can it be that an artist's or maker's entire body of work, a lifetime of artistic exploration, is represented solely by which image can be found?  @%!#!!!!

During the same day of lectures, Garth Clark raised the problem of some artists not allowing images of their work to be used in print or lectures out of concern that such use might negatively affect their branding or identity as an artist. I recommend you read the previous two posts:

Pandora's Box or Toolbox - COPYRIGHT of Photographic Images

Photo Permission & Copyright Issues - Is this hampering a dialog?

OscarWILDE I believe that it should be a shared responsibility for artists and makers to support growth and "the free exchange of ideas in a visual culture"* by allowing images of our work to be used for critical writing and lectures (without requesting monetary compensation).  By far most critiques are net positives.  But if not, Oscar Wilde said it best, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

So always have great photos ready. The quality of photographic images of your work  often reflects the quality of the work itself.

To obtain the maximum mutual benefits,  support the arts community by freely sharing your great images for inclusion in writing, discertations, lectures, books, and magazines. Let's help make valuable contributions to the community with the very best of photographic images of our work.


*quote from email conversation with Bruce Metcalf, author of Makers: A History of American Studio Craft.

P.S. More information about the issues surrounding photographic images in digital age will be presented on May 28, 2010 during the Professional Development Seminar at the SNAG Conference. Stay tuned for more information about Photography in Flux: Technical Issues, Media and Style.

DATE:           May 28, 2010
TIME:         9:00 to 12:00
                 (followed by brown bag lunch discussion)
LOCATION: The Westin Hotel,
                 1900 5th Ave,
                 Seattle, WA.

Pandora's Box or Toolbox - COPYRIGHT of Photographic Images

On November 18th I wrote to Garth Clark via email to thank him for his comments about the previous post on ASK Harriete. We were discussing the issues surrounding the importance of photographic images in creating a dialog and critical discourse within the arts and crafts community. 

Many issues surround the use of photographic images.  So in an effort to bring this discussion into a more public forum, Garth Clark agreed to a post of our email conversation.

Garth Clark is a noted author and lecturer who has lectured across the U.S. I have listed a few of his many books on the right column of this blog as affiliate links for your convenience.

HARRIETE email text is in black.
GARTH Clark's email text is in steel blue.

Critics Choice is a series of three pencil sharpeners as a commentary on art criticism.
Critic’s Choice © 1986
brass, copper, steel, painted, plated,
Artist:Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Thanks for your comment [on the previous post on ASK Harriete]. I am glad to hear your point of view directly rather than filtered by my notes and memory.
Trying to be organized here …. It seems that there are three issues:
Issue#1. Hampering versus encouraging ”legitimate scholarly or critical usage.” Publishing books and articles including images for “legitimate scholarly or critical usage” should definitely be encouraged.  This is the reason I wrote the previous post about this topic. The arts and crafts will grow and develop by expanding such discourse.  I would like to encourage authors, publishers, artists and makers to all cooperate in this endeavor.  We all benefit.

Encouragement is not enough. See comments below. It has to be a legal option for the writer.

CRITIC's Choice  Metalgramatic pencil sharpener is made from lead by Harriete Estel Berman
Critic’s Choice © 1986
brass, copper, steel, painted, plated,
Artist:Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Issue #2.  Copyright protection and artists’ rights to control images of their work.
I could never endorse that artists abdicate their rights of ownership of the work they created.  If they don’t see a benefit to themselves or their community for participating in someone's “usage” it is a loss for them.  That is their right, whether anyone else agrees with them or not.  Yet, I hope that it is clear that in the vast majority of situations, I firmly believe that the artists benefit by granting permission (even without direct payment) and being included in a publication.

I agree but with an exemption. My free speech as a critic should enable me to voice my opinion and illustrate the object of my criticism with or without the artist's permission so long as it does not constitute commercial usage. It cannot be "by permission only" because my experience in real life is that artists are into free speech for themselves but not when someone wants to question their work. So to think that they will just cooperate is naïve.


Critics Choice pencil sharpener titled Didactic is constructed by Harriete Estel Berman  as a commentary about art criticism.
Critic’s Choice © 1986
brass, copper, steel, painted, plated,
Artist:Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Issue #3.  Use of images for commercial enterprise.
While the premise of books and articles may be “legitimate scholarly or critical usage,” my understanding is that someone is selling those publications.  Whether or not anyone makes a profit, such use is a commercial enterprise.  For example, book publishers sell educational textbooks but are still required to obtain permission to publish copyright images. Even if profit is not the primary motivation, the author or publisher is still benefiting from the use of artists' images in the publication.

This defeats the whole purpose. The craft world is so concerned that someone might be slipped a buck or two and they will not. How can criticism be disseminated without someone being paid, a publisher, a critic, a photographer. The point is whether one was making a critical statement about the art or trying to exploit it for profit.

Do you know what a reviewer gets paid by a daily newspaper for a review, $130. In many cases what the writer gets for writing a piece is less than what the artist receives for copyright fees. Current fair usage already mandates limited use of the imagery. If I were to write an entire book on an artist, pro or con, that would be a violation. But if in a text with 200 images I needed to reproduce two photographs that were essential to the critical argument, that is fair usage.

And that does not give wholesale permission for anyone else to use the image thereafter. No primary right has been lost. And it's not that artists use this to control copyright in a fair and open manner but often to control content (i.e. smother dissent with threats of lawsuits). I find that antidemocratic and an affront to the supposed open exchange of the aesthetic experience for which the art world purports to stand.

What this has resulted in is that independent book publishing is on its way out.  Over 90% of the books you see on artists today are artist sanctioned volumes (often with fees waived because its to their benefit) that are paid for upfront and in full by their gallery, a sponsor, collector or their estate. Publishers are too scared to cross this line, so all we get now is coffee table PR. Don’t you think something has been lost?

I would warn younger artists in trying this ploy. Publishers simply exchange images for which a fee is requested with those of artists who make no charge. So unless you are crucial to the document, you could find yourself edited out by the accounting department.

But before you get your crafters smock in a twist, bear in mind this applies ONLY to LEGITIMATE critical writings. And there are already some guidelines. Books such as Lark are not critical studies and would not be exempt. I am arguing for a very narrow exemption on the correct side of free speech.

Critics  Choice says, "RESONANT with Social Implications" by Harriete Estel Berman
Critic’s Choice © 1986
"Resonant with obligue social
brass, copper, steel, painted, plated,
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

So an exchange of benefits seems like an opportunity.  Let the two parties negotiate.  Hopefully, both sides see the mutual benefits of working together (with or without cash compensation), but if they don't agree, both must walk away empty handed.  I think it would be heavy handed to "amend the law" to assure that one side always wins.

And as so often happens in the arts with “enlightened” legislation to protect the artists such as 5% resale fee to artists, 99% of the benefit goes to the superstars. If you are going to pay for photographs, the bulk of that budget is kept for the Koon's and Hirsch’s of the world because they have the greater bargaining power. (Although Koons was very gracious in allowing me to include his work in my recent Metalsmith piece without cost.)

And it gets worse because in some cases one has to pay the museum that owns the piece, the photographer who shot it, and the artist. Three charges! That bill can come to over $1500 per image! Bear in mind that almost nobody makes big money off art books. So while it may fit into your commercial use bracket, neither the publisher nor the author earns enough for a week in Monaco. And what books do in developing audience for artists is immense. Copyright fees are now strangling the independent book publisher. Major artists will not feel any pain because they self-publish. Lesser artists (financially speaking) will become invisible.

Thanks for giving this subject some air.

HARRIETE to the readers: This discussion is just beginning.

  • Do you have any comments or questions that you would like to add?
  • Does this issue impact only the rarefied artist or the entire community?
  • If you are paid for using images of your work, is your photographer going to expect additional compensation?  
  • I personally wonder who decides what author or document fits into the category of "LEGITIMATE critical writings." 
  • Are we opening a Pandora's box with this discussion or can we arrive at a broad consensus?

Pandora's Tool Box titled Make Me Over, Over, Over by Harriete Estel Berman Pandora's Box Make Me Over, Over, Over  © 1984
brass, copper, steel, painted, plated,
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman

Photo Permission & Copyright Issues - Is this hampering a dialog?

Hotbutton The previous post discussed the lecture by Garth Clark at SOFA Chicago and his tour of Metalsmith Exhibition in Print: Neo-Palatial (published by SNAG).  Clark concluded his talk by commenting on a hot button topic.  He suggested that images of art and craft should be made available copyright free for the purpose of supporting and expanding critical writing and discourse. Copyright_symbol2

A rather radical idea.  But as I understand it, artists sometimes deny use of their photos to writers.  Such artists commonly rationalize this behavior for two reasons:

Some artists don’t want photos of their work used in a non-approved context. In other words they want to control how their work is seen, who is writing about their work, what is written about their work, which publications the article will be in, etc. The artists want complete and absolute control over their identity (or "brand") as an artist or maker.  I have heard that this is a small, but growing problem.

Bar Code Identity Necklace

Bar Code Identity Necklace © 2008
Plastic, vintage beads, recycled tin,
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Some artists want to be paid for the use of photos. However, writers rarely have much of a budget for an article or book, much less extra money to pay for the use of an image.  Yet some artists are asking upwards to $1,000 per image -- and consequently, end up with no deal at all.

This problem was described by Garth Clark as hampering writers, authors, and lecturers to generate a dialog and critical thinking within the art and craft media. I see his point, and agree with his intent.  However, I don't see a need to stop using the fundamental copyright law that protects artists' work.

Close up view for seder plate by Harriete Estel Berman How Is This Night Different From All Other Nights? It would be much better for the arts and crafts community to share images of our work with our permission and free of charge.  We collectively have much more to gain by fostering greater awareness within and beyond our community.   It is unproductive to worry about the minuscule possibility that your reputation might be impacted by one writer's point of view. You may be surprised, but normally, both you and the community generally benefit from free flowing dialog. Open the door to the possibilities.

How IsThis Night  Different From All Other Nights
How Is This Night Different From All
Other Nights
© 2001   (full view)
Seder Plate constructed from post
consumer recycled tin cans,
Vintage steel dollhouses.
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

There have been plenty of times when I've been surprised by the comments of an author.  It may or may not have been negative comments or critical evaluation.  Misrepresentation of my work with an incorrect interpretation or description is a common problem.

Get over it!  Anytime your work goes out into the public forum, this is a risk. It may be annoying, but it is not fatal.  It is more valuable that people see and hear your name and the discussion. They wouldn't remember slight errors, or recognize mistakes. So I suggest that you be bold, brave and ready for an adventure.

Next week: The importance of quality images and documentation of your work to expand the critical dialog.


P.S. Do you have anything to add? Please leave a comment?


Creating an experience - Peering Over the Palace Wall - by Garth Clark at SOFA

SNAG Exhibition in PrintGarth Clark spoke early on Friday morning at SOFA Chicago 2010 presenting an audio visual excursion into his recent curatorial tour de force Metalsmith Exhibition in Print: Neo-Palatial. The lecture was titled, "Peering Over the Palace Wall: The Neo-Palatial Aesthetic in Contemporary Art."

If you aren't familiar with Exhibition in Print it is a special annual issue of SNAG's Metalsmith Magazine that is supposed to be a virtual exhibition. I have always loved the idea of this annual issue.  Considering the effort and cost of sponsoring a physical exhibition (e.g. staff, storage, insurance, shipping, and installation), Exhibition in Print is a fabulous altenative. 

Exhibition in Print can present a "no holds barred" theme with minimal risk and travel anywhere with no limits. Sometimes it's great, especially when it takes a risk.  Other times it is boring if it follows the status quo.  It has been a little bit of everything over the past fourteen years.

Learn more about the restored Gates of

The most recent Exhibition in Print was a remarkable issue.  As guest curator, Garth Clark actually structured the magazine text and images like a tour of an exhibition.  Through his words and images you can find yourself immersed in a virtual palace.

 Cygne Noir   Emiko Oye © 2009
 Repurposed LEGO, rubber cord, s.silver
 24" x 5" x 3 1/2"
 Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

You can purchase the issue, or read an interesting review of the multiple issues by Damian Skinner.  This issue of the magazine is packed with multi-leveled symbolism and provacative content. It is to be enjoyed at every level. 

But, beyond looking at the images on the magazine pages and reading between the lines in the text, every artist and maker can learn an important insight.  Garth Clark approached the the complete layout, text and content as a bold, inventive adventure.  All previous issues of Exhibition in Print were simply catalogs of work.  In contrast, Clark shaped an entire experience. He had an idea and he brought it to fruition without precedent.  Nothing selected in this issue was average or ordinary.

20 Pulleys Necklace © 2009
Sterling Silver, copper, brass, gold leaf,
deer antler, silk string,
Artist: Elliot Gaskin

And THAT is just the point. So much around us is ordinary, average, mere reinterations of  other people's ideas, following the status quo. To really stand out and create excellance, we need to create some- thing never seen before, something that breaks the bonds of self-imposed limits.  You must step out of your comfort zone. A really simple idea, so much harder to BE, yet so liberating once achieved.

At the end of his lecture Clark said that it was now going to be an actual exhibition. Wow! Maybe even a book! Garth Clark creates magic one more time.

Garth Clark raised one more issue...a real hot button topic about copyright of images.
Stay tuned for Thursday's post.....


Were you at the lecture?
Did you read the Metalsmith Exhibition in Print: NeoPalatial?
Please feel welcome to leave your comments.

In the effort of full disclosure, Emiko Oye has worked for me as a studio assistant for 13 years, and Elliot Gaskin was a summer intern 2009.