Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Your Own Internet (Part Two)

As quite a bit of time has passed from when I first posted Part One I have come across quite a few examples of well structured business models taking advantage of digital media's power in direct networking.  I would like to think that my post was perfectly timed but in reality these types of examples are always occurring.  I just pay closer attention now.

I am returning to this issue again (and will a third time), because I firmly believe that the influence of technology on the business of art is still yet to happen.  Simply attributing it to the auction market being open online or the influence of technology on art installations is horribly short sighted.  A real change is going to start with something completely shaking the foundation of the art business, leaving everyone questioning the sustainability of its future.  Since we have yet to see the collapse of the major auction houses, much in the way we are witnessing the collapse of the major box retail stores (i.e. Tower Records, Virgin Records, Borders, etc) I am assuming it has yet to happen.  It will, and it will more than likely eliminate other middle men as well, decimating the value of contemporary museums and galleries, which, in all practicality, the idea of a "contemporary" museum feels a little like an oxymoron.  What use is a museum to preserve something that hasn't even proven it's relevance against the test of time?*

Regardless, my only regret is that I didn't jump on the second part of this post sooner.  I always felt that the business of the tech world stands as progenitor to the business of the art world.  Between Apple Inc. and major U.S. book publishers being accused of price fixing eBooks**, the battle against the Stop Online Piracy Act and it's many iterations, and the constant fight for Net Neutrality, I have actually been following the tech world more closely.  Understandably, this seems to be the only industry where adaption over repulsion is the standard and any instance of a different industry using this method as well seems to be taking advantage of the tech worlds tools to reach their goals.

This first example I saw this executed remarkably well was when comedian Louis CK self released his Live at the Beacon Theatre performance through his own website.  The basic idea didn't seem to be anything remarkable, but the details in which he executed his plan made all the difference:

--$5 to download
--Quick and easy to pay
--No Digital Rights Management (DRM)***
--Mailing list subscription set to "No" by default

These all seem like minor details but they are near revolutionary in regards to the respect and faith they put in his fan base. In fighting online piracy major labels and publishers had forgotten the basic rules to effective retail: cheap, fast, and quality.  When Louis CK was asked why he didn't include and DRM restrictions on his downloads he simply responded:

"I see it as a sign of quality.  If you buy a really nice toaster it isn't going to come with a huge lock on it."

The simplicity of his thinking seems anything but revolutionary, but his sales told a different story.  Within a week he had made over a million dollars, posting a photo of his Paypal account online.  His business model only became that much more profound when he decided that he was going to divide the proceeds into quarter shares:  one part going to himself, one part covering production expenses, one part going to his staff as bonuses, and the last part going to charity (can you name any other for profit business that donated a quarter of its revenue to charity?).  When addressing this decision he stated, "This is crazy.  I've never had this much money before...I don't need this much money" and noting in his act, "I don't view money as MY money.  I just see it as THE money."  It would be easy to imagine titans of industry arguing this as a somewhat communistic viewpoint.  I feel it is quite the opposite, seeing revenue as a means for growth as opposed to the hoard.  This model soon paved the way for other comedians to follow in his footsteps, being successfully executed by Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari soon after.

Though a torrent-link to a pirated copy of Louis CK's show appeared on The Pirate Bay website soon after, even the uploader atndigcrk seemed to share some sense of conflict, stating:

Yea its the new one yea i kinda feel bad putting it here but people like louis ck gotta realize without torrents and the net he wouldnt be anywhere bc honestly louis i know ur here and i know u mite be mad at me but u gotta realize not everyone has paypal , not eveyone has credit cards, some people use net lounges, some have barely money for food, art = comedy should be shared with the mass , and Believe me u can judge the popularity more from the torrent downloads then the paypal sales, also if people like it , its easier to buy on there ipad/ipod or personal/work computers...more buzz = more sales

Hope you understand louie

Though his logic borders more on self-fulfilling idealism than practicality, it is one of the few times someone, who so strictly abides by their beliefs in piracy, had so openly struggled coming to terms with their actions, given the accessibility and low price of the content.  This conflict was only heightened by a note from CK on his website's download page:

To those who might wish to "torrent" these shows:

Look, I don't really get the whole "torrent" thing. I don't know enough about it to judge either way. But I'd just like you to consider this: I made these files extremely easy to use against well-informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without "corporate" restrictions.

Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I'm just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea. I can't stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the show, and let other people find it in the same way.

Louis C.K

It's a very straight forward request and provides very little room to rationalizing around it.  In this instance, regardless of the price, art is a luxury item, making the argument of its necessity being important enough to steal a hard one to justify.  No one's life is being saved by comedy, so the charitable aspect of viewing the content probably does not outweigh the value of the $250,000 paid directly to charitable organizations earned from paying customers.

The promotional aspect of The Pirate Bay may be debatable.  Though most people who pirate software regularly will not be swayed by CK's note, it was a direct issue that had to be addressed.  In the end, the file will still be torrented by them, but CK is still respected in that he addressed the pirates as people acting selfishly and not criminals.  Support from that portion of the internet can go a long way in your content going viral online and insuring that you stay on the good side of the pirating community****, even if your beliefs and politics toward digital distribution do not sync*****.

It is the savvy creators that know piracy will always remain one step ahead and can therefore use it as a beacon to stay on top of new means for distributing their product.  For example, as I write this sentence consumer grade 3D printers are hitting the market.  Months before these products were ready for sale The Pirate Bay devoted a section of their website for users to upload links to 3D printing torrent files.  Someday soon, someone out there is going to steal a pair of shoes by printing them out at home, an issue that has more than likely never been addressed in a Nike corporate office.

*  It's a trick question, a contemporary museum isn't used to preserve history.  It's used to inflate the market value of the artwork donated by collectors, some of them even on the board of directors of the museum themselves
**This was becoming obvious when consumers were noticing that their eBooks, which require almost no overhead to publish, were often being priced more expensive than their paperback versions.
***DRM refers to different restrictions enabled on digital content to help "prevent" privacy.  This may include restrictions on the number of downloads or installs on a particular machine, special file formats that can only be read by the software the company provides, streaming only as opposed to downloading, etc.  Though implemented by most major companies many consumers feel that these guidelines tend to hurt the customers legally buying the software as opposed to the ones stealing it, who tend to just find new ways to steal the product while the actual customers find the install restrictions becoming increasing limited.  Here was a great letter written to Chris Dodd by an open source founder and some more insightful thoughts on eBook DRM and
****A good example of this argument is the price Sony paid when they tried to sue George "geohot" Hotz for hacking the Playstation 3.  A mistake that cost them tens of millions of dollars when they were subsequently hacked and millions of their user's account information was dumped online.  Exposing their lack of security and devastated their name among the gaming world.  This also all happened as the gaming console era shows a questionable future, putting Sony in a uneasy position it has still yet to recover from.
*****There are actual Pirate political parties around the world.  Their book No Safe Harbour is a selection of essays that addresses their supported ideas and beliefs.  You can find it here  These ideas are beginning to be being openly promoted by many artists as well

Monday, June 4, 2012

Get There 2.5 Mid-Levels

It has been a little while since I have done one of these posts, or any posts for that matter.  I had no intention to step away from the blog, or even take a break.  But coming back into my routine and considering that I just put a final coat of varnish this painting an hour before I began writing this post, I thought it would be best to return to this series of Get There posts.

At this point with these paintings many of the steps are pretty much the same techniques, repeated over and over with different colors.  Fortunately, that makes this post easy for me and requires much less writing.

I pretty much make all of the land details on this painting with a 1/8" filbert, a roughly 01 round, and the smallest round point brush I can find (to be honest I forget the numbering system, maybe it's a 001 size).  Slowly but surely I scribble each layer on inch by inch, leaving sharp dark edges for trees and bushes, and rubbing other edges with my finger to soften the transition from darker to lighter layers.  I will come to realize later in the painting that this particular piece is pretty much all background, with very few legible details.

It's a shame how completely unhelpful this photo is.  There really is no way to get a good reading of this brown I previously used, by looking at this photo.  This isn't even taking into account the fact that each different computer will make this little container of paintl look different from screen to screen. Fortunately I got a whole bunch of these photos lined up.

Wow, again I apologize for this photo but I am working with just a point and shoot because I do not have the time to stage nice pictures or stitch together a nice little video.  Regardless, there is useful information to glean from all of this.  This photo highlights the small subtleties between warm and cool colors that you must juggle between different portions of the land.  At this stage I had to start distinguishing between three main different tones of the land in the painting:

--The cooler gray-brown of the higher elevated mountains.
--The warmer ochre-ish brown of the mid-range mountains.
--The brighter green-brown of the benches and valley

I started these mid-layer steps by mixing a good ochre tone for the mid-range mountains.  My process would normally dictate that I start with the more distant gray mountains but that tone didn't really spread through the rest of the image so it was much safer to start with the ochre.

The color of this photo was saturated some with the camera, which tends to be an inevitable side effect of over compensating while fixing overexposure.

Though this color looked awkward in regards to the palette of the painting it will actually layer into the piece pretty smoothly.  It never ceases to amaze me how much different the color looks on the canvas than on the glass palette.  That's why I usually have a gray palette.

If you are really looking for a high functioning palette to mix color on though, you should use a sheet of glass taped to a board painted in four sections:


Here is a closer shot of the brushes.  The round brushes constantly get chewed up on this canvas.  Three of them were pretty much unusable by the time I finished.  I didn't have a good photo of them, but by the end the bristles would funnel in toward the center then poof out on the tip, making them not only hold little paint but also struggle with accuracy.  The brush on the right leads me to believe that I started with a flat head brush that actually just withered into the shape of a filbert.  Of course, this is a different brush than in the first photo and this one was more likely used to build some hard edges and develop a little more form and structure into the mountains.

The round point brush was good for adding a sense of foliage, though while applying I was constantly trying to prevent the side effect of it looking like choppy water.  There was lots of finger smudging at this point, which inevitably made me start to lose some of the form of the mountains.

You can see the fresher ochre paint in the upper right of the photo.  This layer was executed in multiple sittings and though it is not as common with oils, they still can dry a little cooler than the intended color.

Regardless, a more common problem I started to face at this point was the spacing of the dark spots.  When filling in an area and building positive structures of trees and rocks by painting the negative space around them, it is very easy to accidentally space the negative spots too equally apart from each other.  Much in a similar way as if trying to paint stars in a night sky and making them all equidistant from each other.  Our brains have a natural tendency to try to order our visuals to make the interpretation of what we are looking at easier to comprehend.  It is important to paint meticulous and subtle details with a clear head.

This shot should give a better idea where the painting is so far.  I was a little nervous about the scale of the value jump to this layer, but I usually tend to not push the contrast in my paintings as far as I should.  In this case, this is an improvement for me.

This right side of the mountain was bothering me and began to look too flat.  I spent so much time scribbling in the details of the lighter layer that I didn't pay attention to the form of the mountain, particularly in the center of this photo.  The overly even spacing of the dark spots only added to the problem.

Sorry about the glare in this photo.  I only have one spot I can hang this piece on my wall and the skylight above my studio can make shooting this painting a battle.

You can see the problem on this closeup of the left side of the mountain too.  The warmer fresh paint is clearly applied with less attention paid to the structure.  One of the most common mistakes I make is letting my short attention span get the best of me and trying to speed through the process.  My only saving grace is being able to catch myself when things start going south.

When a painting begins to unintentionally lose form and structure I either recover by laying in large, rectangular, hard edge strokes with a square edge brush or, in this case, lightly draw out the contours of the planes to make sure I follow the detailing correctly.  This painting was too far along to try the first option.

As I worked up the left mountainside the form began to return.  I mentioned earlier that there are three main tones I am was working with.  That was why I hadn't applied much of this layer to the upper center. Though it contained some ochre and brown elements I decided to wait and put down a base consisting of a little more gray.  I applied this tone to the bottom benches (it is a more green area) though because  it made for a good base to begin applying the brighter green tones later.

I was nervous applying this gray layer too.  Much similar to how I felt while applying the ochre mix, the value jump felt relatively drastic and didn't sit too well with the other colors on the painting.  In many cases I would try to just remove it with Turpenoid and try again later but I decided to spin the wheel on this one and see if it provided a more striking tone to work off of for the mountains.  In other words, this was just a another case of me letting my short attention span get the best of me again.

Though the gray seemed odd on the canvas, next to the other sealed colors, I was really starting to see a nice earthy palette form.  This was also a factor that contributed to me sticking with the gray.  Letting it dry and coming back to the painting later was the only way to know for sure.