On the history of decorative art, design, and film. Doing Digital Art History

Tag: Omeka

Art and Fair Use

One of the articles we read this week was Paula Aufderheide’s report on Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities. Fair use is part of the United States copyright law, and can be confusing. It refers to the right to reuse copyrighted material without permission or payment. Sherrie Levine and Roy Lichtenstein are two American artists who appropriate images from other artists. Appropriation in art and art history refers to the practice of artists using pre-existing objects or images in their work with little transformation of the original. Some contemporary artists have taken this movement to the point of using images which are virtually unchanged (Sherrie Levine). While this is common practice for some artists, Aufderheide notes that up to a third of visual artists are more cautious, and avoid or abandon projects out of a fear violating copyright laws. The area in fair use that I believe causes the confusion is the issue of transformation. Often, if a copyright infringement case goes to court, a judge will use the amount of transformation from the original to determine if there was infringement. This begs the question of, how much transformation is required? Most likely it would be decided on a case by case basis, which adds to the probable desertion of projects.

For art historians, fair use applies to analytic writing, and enables scholars to quote, excerpt, or reproduce copyrighted works, according to the College Art Associations Code of Best Practices. However, if we plan to publish a book and include images to support our analysis, then we will be required to pay a licensing fee for permission to use the image(s). Depending on the artist, these fees can be prohibitive. This may cause art historians to eschew contemporary art all together in order to avoid the expense of licensing fees, resulting in a loss of scholarship. For example, any work done before 1923 falls under fair use, and those images are available for use without the financial concern of licensing fees. Another area where art historians can run into difficulty is if the copyright holder wants to stop the publication of an unwelcome focus on the artist, and will use copyright law to squash the project, again, resulting in a loss of scholarship. Curators must also consider copyright issues when planning an exhibition. They may be forced to discard a potential exhibition if the costs are too high. This is a practical concern which results in the loss of exposure to certain artists, as well as a loss for the public.

I have always found the work of Roy Lichtenstein an interesting example of free use. Lichtenstein used images from popular culture, mainly Romance and War comic books of the 1960s. The artists whose images he appropriated were not well paid, and had work-for-hire contracts, meaning they did not own the creative work they did. In interviews, Lichtenstein would sometimes speak positively about the work he had appropriated, but in others, he spoke disparagingly. He said he was turning the “low art” of comic books into “high art.” Essentially, he equated the creative work of other artists with Duchamp’s urinal. Comic book artists were insulted, and resentful of how much money Lichtenstein made on his paintings. While Lichtenstein”s changes were subtle, such as changing the scale, the colors, and tweaks to the composition, these changes did add up to a transformation of the work.

In class, we began working with Omeka. I had trouble logging into my c-panel, even though I had saved my username and password. I wound up sending a request for a new password. Uploading an item was also problematic, as the image I uploaded only appeared as a thumbnail, and not the actual image itself. I had to change the settings, which I did, but it still didn’t work. Other users had the same issue. We had to add a code in settings, and then it worked. Once I get my password reset, I will try to change the theme.

It is frustrating when technology doesn’t work they way it is supposed to. When it doesn’t, without the aid of someone more knowledgeable on the subject than myself, it becomes time-consuming to find out how to fix it. I would like the Omeka platform to be more intuitive. Why, if we’re already signed into Omeka, do we then have to sign into c-panel? Shouldn’t it recognize us? I’m sure someone with more technological knowledge could easily explain why it doesn’t. To me, it seems illogical. I’m sure the more the I use Omeka, the more comfortable I will get with it, and the easier it will become. I didn’t have the opportunity to add the theme I wanted because of the c-panel issue, but we were shown the process, and it appeared complicated, with multiple decision points. Unfortunately, multiple decision points for a beginner like me translates into multiple opportunities for mistakes.

That said, there are two aspects of Omeka that stand out for me. The first, is the possibility of collaboration, and the second is the exhibit builder. If an art historian becomes a faculty member at a college or university, Omeka opens up a variety of ways art history students could work together on projects, or create their own exhibition. An art historian who works in a museum or historical society could easily collaborate on projects, and the ability to design an exhibition in Omeka would prove quite useful. Curators could also use Omeka to build online exhibits which could offer even more information about an existing exhibition. Or, they could create an online exhibition which would supplement or enhance currently existing physical exhibits. I wonder if Omeka could be used to create an archive? This would be an advantageous way to organize research data, especially for a larger project like a dissertation. After the dissertation is published, you could make your archive public. All in all, I appreciate the possibilities of Omeka, and will continue to work with the program in the hopes of becoming more adept at using it.


Patricia Aufderheide, et al. Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities: An Issues Report(College Art Association, 2014). http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/FairUseIssuesReport.pdf.

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use in the Visual Arts (College Art Association, 2015). http://www.collegeart.org/fair-use/best-practices

“Use men to get the things you want!”

The above quote comes from Baby Face (1933), a “Pre-Code” Hollywood film starring Barbara Stanwyck that embraced Nietszche and exploitation as a primary means of Depression era survival. This did not go over so well with the newly empowered MPPDA, who upon enforcing their Production Code in 1934 required that any re-release of this film have the offending Nietszche material cut out and replaced by a new voice-over containing a moralizing lecture (and at least an implication that the book in the scene is a Bible, rather than the writing of Nietszche). No master and slave power dynamic and more a cautionary “there is a right way and a wrong way” for Lily Powers to get along in the world.

I think this is an appropriate choice for today’s workshop response, since we were tasked in the afternoon with “exploiting” one of three free content management systems–Drupal, Omeka, and Scalar–to see if one of them would suit our particular project. And because I tested Scalar using the above offending scene, creating a film and censorship project (still private, but also with all of one page and 2 media items in it, so not that interesting to the outside observer yet). I was attracted to Scalar because it was designed specifically to be used with multimedia projects using images, video, sound, etc, because a lot of those kinds of files could be linked in from outside sources (so not having to have a lot of server space built in for large media files), but also because, as I said to my other Scalar-testing colleagues at the table, it is rather like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, based on nodes and paths but not requiring a linear structure and including other visualization techniques to link data within the project.

Scalar was somewhat the reverse of my experience working with other CMS or blogging tools like WordPress, in that it required me to ingest or link to my media first and then build pages, comments, notes and annotations around that media second. Easy enough to re-orient myself to, and also not requiring me to have a grand plan or structure from the start. And the annotations and tags are truly wonderful. I could annotate my video clip, starting at the moment where the cobbler invokes the great philosopher and ending with Lily’s thoughtful “huh” (notice the clip above is just pulled in from Youtube and has no annotations). The annotation could include detailed text explaining why I made that particular choice (Here Be Voice-Over after The Code!) which would pop-up under the playback of the video when it came to the annotation starting point. Tags could be anything I want, and would be created as a page within my project, which meant that I could Tag any media object or other page, as well as add further explanatory information, links, bibliography or notes to the Tag itself–my first tag was “Pre-Code” and I can see how that could use some defining for audiences not familiar with the brief period from 1930-1934 when the MPPDA had a written censorship code but the studio members really didn’t make any attempt to enforce said self-produced code until further threats of Catholic boycotts forced them to finally capitulate and set up an office that would police the industry until 1968. I could add links to wikipedia, PDFs, and more. And, with more items tagged, and more tags, I could very easily look at my project as a network visualization (tags are links, lots of mentions in tags would mean sizeable nodes), showing how censorship could cross studios, films, actors, genres, gender, or any other grouping that would change the mostly linear and anecdotal story of film censorship in current scholarship. And I could see all of this potential after only an hour-and-a-half of work, which was even more exciting, especially if I am hoping to have students engage with this tool for a course assignment.

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