Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Where art imitates 'art'

There has been a furor. The popular TradeMe auction site has banned some painters from listing their works on the site.

Their reasoning: the paintings are not the artist’s own work. They, it has been argued, breach the copyright of a photographer.

This raises an interesting question about the nature of copyright and what constitutes art. There are other issues relating to trade descriptions of the work, but for the purpose of this discussion I will set that aside.

Here's the bully: Painter sources an image published on the internet he models an oil painting on the photo, making little or no alteration to the composition of the image. At first glance you might think the images were the same. But only at first glance. One, you see, is a record of a landscape created using a scientific instrument and some chemical processes. The other is a painting. There is little artistry in the work that is, in fact, the photographer's own. He has made a record of a scene. One might argue that he has composed the image - that by placing the camera in a certain position that he has created a work of art that is particular to him.

Following that argument a photographer who takes a picture of Uluru (Ayer's Rock) at sunset from a particular vantage point becomes the 'owner' of the right to photograph that scene and any photographer who subsequently placed her camera in that same position and photographed the same scene would be in breach of the copyright in the original work.

That, of course is absurd. The argument would follow that each image was unique; that the setting itself was in the public domain and that there was nothing particular to the image that was introduced by the photographer. There is a clause in patent registration law that demands that the object, system or practice being patented must not contain elements that would be obvious - that is - might easily be observed or claimed by anyone under the same circumstances. This applies to the images in question, there is nothing particular to the photograph introduced by the photographer - the image of pohutakawa flowers in the foreground and ocean view in the background is remarkable for its mundane ordinariness. There is nothing especially original and if you were to go the same spot with your disposable camera you might compose the same scene. If you were to do so, would you be accused of breaching a copyright?

Is success in photography a matter of showing up with a camera?

On the other hand there is the dynamic that an oil painting is not like a photograph. The artistry of the image lies in the skill and experience of the painter to mix and apply paints and media in a way that is directly affected by his experience and skill. If you look closely at a painting the hand of the creator is evident, it is not a chemical reaction. A reasonable person would not think that the painting was a photograph, or, importantly, the photograph in question.

There is a long history of using photographic references in art. And that is just what they are in this case, reference points. I cannot see how the photographer's livelihood is in any way affected by the creation of the painting.

On the other hand, if someone were to photograph the painting and claim it as his or her own work I would take issue with that.

That the whole ridiculous storm in a teacup was prompted by an organisation called 'ScamBusters' is telling. What is the scam exactly? Was the buyer unhappy? Anyone who buys a chocolate box image of some pohutakawas and an ordinary composition would, one would assume, have low expectations and were probably quite happy to have some art-craft in their rumpus room.

It seems the only real victim in the process is common sense. Though, perhaps, the mischief is simply part of the PR offensive being mounted by Trademe itself. Seems there is a TV news item every second day (could their be a listing on the stock market on the horizon?)

Click to visit TradeMe

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Down so long it looks like up to me

I've just watched a terrific DVD. Eric Clapton talking about and performing the music on his tribute to Robert Johnson.
Click Here to find out more

All of my life I've loved the blues as a musical genre. I've never really understood why it it made me feel better. Until recently that is. I mean, when you're down you have to have some way of releasing it or it's just going to burst a seam somewhere.
For some people excercise works, other find solace in meditation (which I have just begun to try with results ranging from falling asleep to something nearing an ecstatic release. Just learning to quiten down the chatter in my head without distraction is something of a mission).

Clapton's music has given me an idea which I'll be pursuing through this week. I'll keep you posted.

If you're interested in the blues you might also like to check out the music of John Hammond, I have been listening to his album - featuring the songs of Tom Waits Wicked Grin (also produced by Waits). It's hard to believe this guy is white.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Well, Well, Well

Let me tell you now that I have never felt worse, and that is why my blog has been erratic. My health seems at a low ebb and, ironically I am becoming more and more involved in the rather strange world of Integrative Medicine (IM). Ok, holistic, dammit. I would rather avoid that term because it conjures associations that are somewhat misleading.

As the publisher of Wellspring, a project I rather fell into, I have had a great deal of contact with practitioners involved in anything from Aura Soma to Zero Balancing and have, by and large, been impressed with their professionalism and commitment to making a difference in the lives of their clients.

The problem is this: the entire category of wellness and complementary medicine is fraught with misconception, mistrust and a lack of common ground between conventional or alopathic medicine and everybody else.

I have found that, just as you cannot separate out the body / mind connection from the complete picture of an individual's health and wellbeing, neither can you take away the socio economic connection. The truth is that people with less money are less able to pay for fresh, nutricious food, they have less access to education and consequentially find themselves trapped in bodies that become subject to easily avoidable, but unbelieveably prevalent conditions like diabetes (of course I am refering to Pacific Islanders and Maori).

Working with a commited group of General Practitioners and wellness practitioners in many associated areas I hope to help shape a manifesto for a future in New Zealand that not only people at the centre of health and wellness, but the whole person.

Not the first time I have embarked on a quixotic quest, but it is something I have come to feel quite passionately about and something I also believe can become a hallmark of life in New Zealand - a dynamic of our national One and Onliness.

There is a sensational book about this whole whole health business that I can recommend to you with confidence. I have just read it - it is brilliant and very readable - unlike a lot of other titles I have seen (I can't abide the msytical mumbo jumbo approach - I personally can't do dream catchers and crystals): Manifesto for a New Medicine: Your Guide to Healing Partnerships and the Wise Use of Alternative Therapies by James S. Gordon

Read an excerpt from the book

Friday, May 13, 2005

All marketers are liars

This week two new media properties I have been developing go to air.

The first is IN2IT, an infomerical along the lines of Family Health Diary and Eating Well, both concepts I developed for brandWorld - the company I co-founded in 1996 and sold in 2000. I continue to work with the company helping develop these innovative media solutions. It's not high art, but it is my art.

The second is TXT2TASTE, which I didn't conceive, but have been consulting with the agency, Publicis Mojo to help steer the project. I like the innovation of the Mojo idea. I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays to consumers - teaching them to behave in new ways.

I have also been working on some truly weird permutations of the infomercial concept - I'll share more with you later. But for now I'm just playing with some ideas that should be very different in this category. I'm beginning to wonder how many of the genre can run before consumers become immune or resistant.

Time will tell.

I'm reading Seth Godin's book (remember Permission marketing?) Free Prize Inside. It is thought provoking. I like his concept of EdgeCraft - taking ideas away from the boring centre. Not such an innovative thought, but he practices what he preaches by making something fairly mundane seem fresh. The first pressings of this book were despatched in Cereal Boxes.

But the one I'm really looking forward to is the provocatively titled All Marketers Are Liars. What I like is the subtitle: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-trust world. Seems to gel with my own thinking. I am being struck by the synchronicity of some of the ideas I am stumbling across.

Friday, May 06, 2005


Tomorrow I am speaking at a conference on the subject of integrative health - I guess in may capacity as the creator of the Family Health Diary and publisher of WellSpring. It will be an interesting day, attended by a spectrum of wellness professionals from general practitioners and chiropractors to pharmacists and naturopaths. Should be fun. I have prepared some material that should put the cat amongst the pigeons.

I guess one of my greatest concerns about the concept of integration is that human nature always has a negative effect. Rather than a harmonious, homogeneous whole forming, there tends to be territorialism and power plays. In the mid 90s I sold my business to a larger agency that promoted an integrated model. "We can", they said"take care of all of your communications requirements." At which point they would reveal an organisational chart that, for all intent and purpose, looked like a multi -tentacled kraaken grasping at every budget morsel that was available. While many clients like the idea of a one-stop-shop, the reality is that most could see little advantage in asking a generalist agency to perform specialist tasks. In addition, by eliminating competition for their projects from, say, designers or direct marketing specialists they ran the risk of having only very ordinary materials prepared. The input of many creative talents, from many different sources was seen as a stimulus for their business. Arguing that consolidating their budgets with one agency would offer cost advantages had little effect. Most marketing people actual want to spend their budgets in order to have them increased the following year. Sad but true.

Another distortion in the integration lens is professional jealousy - rivalry for the dominant position. Who decides how much of the budget should go into brand advertising and how much should go to the web? Let's face it, if you go to a design specialist and ask for a solution to a marketing problem there is a better than average chance that you will get a design recommendation. As Emerson said " If all you have is a hammer, every problem likes like a nail." Not only that, and perhaps this isn't quite so true today as it once was, but advertising people despise direct marketing, brand people hate retail advertising...Just kidding, on reflection it's just as true today as it always was.

In the realm of wellness I know one thing is for sure. Unless the person is placed squarely in the centre of our thinking then, despite the best intentions in the world, the infighting and back biting will erupt as inevitably as a pimple on the night before the prom. We have to empower the consumer, offer them choices and support their choice. The framework has to loose/tight (was that a Tom Petersism back in the 80's?). People respect being treated as human beings, not economic units.
There will need to a clear manifesto that binds the members together in a shared cause. We will have to have a common language and way of interpreting things that are a mystery to us (accepting that some practitioners will oppose immunisation while others will advocate for it - and other dilemmas). Without unity on the things that can be agreed then integration will soon become disintegration. Time will tell. Tomorrow I will be the devil's advocate. What is the worst that can happen - I've been tarred and feathered before.