INTRODUCTION

In the past couple of weeks, although there haven’t been any new posts on this blog, there have been a couple of significant additions: some links to other websites and a new ‘Page’ consisting of a copyright warning.  (The link to the copyright warning can be found in the upper-right corner.)

It’s only a coincidence that my blog acquired links and a copyright warning during a period when the issue of the uses and abuses of online content was so hot–at least in the United States.  I read at least a couple of Canadian newspapers a day, and have had a long-time interest in copyright law (especially as it pertains to education), so if there had been anything relevant in the Canadian papers in the days leading up to the online protest, I would have read it.  But even I didn’t know anything about the proposed, sweeping, American legislation intended to curtail online piracy, the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA)–that could have had very important implications for Canada–until after the day of protest.  On Wednesday (the 18th of January), when I visited the WordPress site to add a few more links to my blog, and saw that the homepage was blacked out, I initially thought a hacker had been up to some mischief.  On Thursday, finally, an editorial about SOPA and the blackouts was published in the Canadian national newspaper, the National Post and, the following weekend, I came across an article by the Canadian law professor, Michael Geist, in the Canadian edition of the Huffington Post.  But there should have been more information readily available, in a timely manner, for we Canadians–at least so we would have known what was going on with the blackout of so many of our favourite websites, originating in both the US and Canada.

After I first learned about SOPA (and the related proposed legislation PIPA), and started to acquaint myself with the legislation and its implications, mainly by reading material on the Internet originating in the US, I considered making it the main subject of this post.  But, now that the vote on the legislation has been delayed–probably due at least in part to the online protest–and new legislation that more narrowly targets Internet pirates already is being discussed, I’ve decided not to write about that subject, apart from what I’ve already said.  Instead, immediately below, I’ll be commenting about digital copyright, especially as it pertains to this blog.  Later, I’ll briefly discuss a second, somewhat related, topic: computer privacy and cloud computing.

 

DIGITAL COPYRIGHT, ESPECIALLY AS IT RELATES TO THIS BLOG

As I was preparing my previous post, about seeing the reproductions of Leonard Cohen’s drawings and paintings at a local private gallery, it seemed like an appropriate juncture to introduce greater technological complexity into this blog, as a learning exercise for me and, to be sure, to make this blog more useful and attractive to potential readers.  (I’ve had about 1,000 ‘hits’ in total on this blog up to now–probably about half of which were me checking, and rechecking, for typos.  Many of the others could have been tomato growers starting to search on the Internet for interesting seeds for their next crop, since it’s that time of year–who are now wondering where they can get seeds for those blue ‘Gopnik’ tomatoes.  My goal is to get at least a couple of hundred hits per post, from actual readers.)  I thought of incorporating some links to external sites, including the site of the gallery where I saw the show, and maybe Leonard Cohen’s own website, as well as a few thumbnails of works in the show.

Since I recognize the importance of copyright law in general, before proceeding, it seemed prudent to check out the main points of copyright law as it pertains to blogging, in both Canada and the United States, the latter since my blog is hosted by WordPress, that originates in the United States.  From what I could gather from both Canadian and American sources, it seems there are three main points relating to the use of the material of others in one’s blog of which bloggers should be aware.

First, incorporating links to the homepages of websites (including blogs) that themselves do not violate copyright law is entirely acceptable.  No special permission is required.

Second, linking to specific content that is copyrighted on even a site that itself does not violate copyright law is more questionable, and probably should be avoided when possible.  One reason for this is that many owners of websites put special stipulations for the use of copyrighted content on their websites, commonly on their homepage, and typical users of the website, who have entered the site through the homepage, have the opportunity to read these stipulations before proceeding.  By creating a link that enables Internet users to enter such a site “through a backdoor,” bypassing the homepage, these users may end up violating copyright–and the blogger who created the link may be held ultimately responsible.  On the website of the British artist, David Hockney, one even has to ‘click’ that one agrees to various copyright stipulations laid out on the homepage before gaining entry–the usual way–to the site.

The third, and final, main point of which bloggers should be aware is that incorporating copyrighted material from other websites directly on one’s own website may be done in moderation, with proper credit given to the creators of the material; however, the limits on the acceptable use of the material of others do vary, depending on the kind of material, the special sensitivities of the creator, and the specifics of the way in which the material is used.  Broadly speaking, writers seem to mind less about having their work appropriated online (in moderation and assuming proper credit is given) than do musicians and visual artists (including photographers).  One reason for this difference would seem to be the longstanding tradition of written works being quoted in other written works: another possible reason is the relative ease with which digital music and visual images may be manipulated and altered somewhat, and then passed off as the work of someone other than their original creator.  On the other hand, some visual artists and musicians, particularly those who seek greater recognition, may not mind, assuming they are given appropriate credit.  When there is any question, it is best to obtain permission before using even short music clips or thumbnails of copyrighted visual imagesAs an alternative to using copyrighted visual images, there are certain websites that provide images that may be used for free, which is made explicit on their homepages.  For example, the cloud background for the below ‘mash-up’ that I (mostly) created was taken from one such website.

In adding some enhancements to my blog in the past few weeks, I followed these basic guidelines.  For example, although I was tempted to include some thumbnails of some of Leonard Cohen’s pictures that were included in his show at the Granville Art Gallery, I ultimately decided against it.  Instead, I added just a link to the homepage of the Granville Art Gallery site that, at least during the run of the show, included thumbnails of all of Cohen’s pieces in the show.  In my post about visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery, I added a link to the homepage of David Hockney’s website, but no links to any of the content on his site–including not even his iPad art, that is an inspiration to me as someone who is making my first foray into iPad art, and that I think also would be of interest to any readers of this blog.  The one link I added that goes to copyrighted material within a website is the link to the preview of Andrew Gopnik’s new book, The Table Comes First, on Google Books.  That one was a little questionable, but it seemed I was doing no harm to Google Books or Adam Gopnik by including the link, and some of my readers may not be aware of the previews available on Google Books, and how to find them.  (I myself didn’t know about these very helpful previews until after I got my iPad, and had more time online to indulge my online fancies.)

As I add posts to this blog, I’ll continue to follow these basic guidelines–and hope that any readers of this blog who are considering using any of its content that I have produced also will follow them.

 

PRIVACY AND CLOUD COMPUTING

 

 

A couple of weeks ago, I made another trip to my local Apple store to get Apple’s new operating system, iOS 5.01, installed on my iPad.  New iPads (those currently being sold, fresh from the factory) have the new operating system pre-installed so, from now on, owners of new iPads who don’t own computers won’t be at the mercy of friends who do own computers, or employees in Apple stores, to get their iPads “set up”.  Future iPad winners without computers–or sales receipts–won’t have to go through what I went through.

The main reason I wanted to get the new operating system installed was to ensure that if, my iPad was somehow seriously damaged, or stolen, all the material that’s now on it would still be available to me.  I’d reached the point where what I had on my iPad, including not only apps and assorted downloads but also, by now, a couple of hundred photographs and my iPad art, had become at least as valuable, if not more valuable–at least to me–than the iPad itself.  Having iOS 5.01 on one’s iPad (or other Apple device) means that, generally speaking (I’ll clarify this shortly), all the material that is on the device is automatically saved on external servers through iCloud, Apple’s version of cloud computing.  Presumable this happens whenever one connects the device to WiFi or even plugs it into an ordinary electrical socket to charge the battery.  (How on earth does that work?!)  Since I still don’t have a computer on which I can back up all this material, it’s a great relief that, if anything should happen to my iPad, I now won’t lose what is on it.

On the negative side, I do have some concerns about privacy with cloud computing.  On the most basic level, although it’s possible I’ve been overly-influenced by the hacking prowess of the fictional character on the TV show, “Criminal Minds”, Technical Analyst Penelope Garcia, it seems that it would be relatively easy for tech-savvy unauthorized parties to hack into an iTunes account, from which material now stored on Apple’s iCloud can be retrieved, using any device connected to the Internet, anywhere in the world.  All they would need is the email address and password associated with the account.  With iCloud, this would give said parties access to all of the material–including, potentially, sensitive documents and photos–on an Apple device.  Also, on another level, conceivably there are ways of accessing material directly from “the cloud”, bypassing iTunes.  I’ve read that material that is stored in “the cloud” is ‘encrypted’, but what exactly does that mean?  Surely there are people who can ‘dis-encrypt’ something that is encrypted–including, I would assume, the employees of Apple who developed and maintain the encryption system, some of whom may have “gone rogue”.

I realize that, with iOS 5.01, one can add passwords to selected documents, or selected folders of photographs–but how much security do these passwords actually provide?  Also, I know there are settings on iPads with iOS 5.01 that enable one to dis-enable iCloud for all documents or all photographs–although, if one’s main purpose in getting iOS 5.01 is to have material saved externally, one wouldn’t be prepared to have all documents or all photographs not saved on the iCloud.  Even with these security options available–and assuming they generally worked–it seems that iPad users could easily forget to add passwords and adjust settings when they should do so.

In my present situation, since my iPad is just for personal use and since I don’t have much to hide, I’m willing to possibly sacrifice some privacy for having a means of backing up the contents of my iPad.  But I can think of situations in which iPad users would not be prepared to possibly sacrifice that privacy. 

As an extreme example, getting back to “Criminal Minds”, in an episode that aired a couple of weeks ago, just after I got the new operating system installed on my iPad, the members of the FBI behavioural analysis team featured on the show were all issued with new iPads (or at least tablet computers covered by black cases, that seemed to be iPads).  Assuming those tablet computers were iPads, I had to wonder if it was realistic that members of the FBI investigating serious criminal cases would use iPads with iOS 5.01, with various sensitive documents loaded on them.  Since Garcia personally issued her team of FBI agents with the iPads, and since she’s such a computer whiz, iPad users who take basic precautions probably don’t have to worry at all about privacy and cloud computing–or maybe we do.

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LEONARD COHEN ARTWORKS

January 9, 2012

 

 

A few days after finishing up my last post about my visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery, I dropped in to a show at a private gallery that happened to be on my bus route and that, from what I could see from inside the bus, seemed interesting enough to get off the bus and check it out.  The show consisted of limited-edition reproductions of Leonard Cohen’s drawings and paintings from over the past four decades.

If one is a fan of Cohen’s poetry and music, as I am, the show is definitely worth seeing.  Is it great art?  Not according to any standard definition of ‘great’.  In some of his paintings, Cohen demonstrates a good sense of colour and, in some of his ink drawings, he demonstrates strong caricature skills.  Also, the “narrative content” (if one may use that expression for visual art) of many of his pictures is very touching–visually echoing the poetic sensibilities of his written work.  But none of his artwork that was on display at this show is very ambitious.  As I was told by one of the gallery employees, when I asked her about the reproduction technique used for these pieces, most of these pieces originally were very small, no bigger than a small sketch pad, and even the most graphically complex pieces probably were completed in no more than a day or two.  The work is that of a talented amateur artist, and it’s very unlikely that it would be shown at the relatively prestigious Granville Fine Art gallery, fetching prices of up to several thousand dollars for a single reproduction (when up to a hundred reproductions are being sold of each image), if the artist wasn’t Leonard Cohen.  Still, if I had sufficient money, and a large space that could accommodate a memento of Cohen’s large spirit, I’d buy one.  (I especially liked “the hat”, a self-portrait of Cohen wearing one of his trademark fedoras, with the hand-written caption, “one of those days when the hat doesn’t help.”  The image made me laugh out loud.)

The reproduction technique that was used for this work is another strong selling point.  Cohen’s pieces started as small watercolours and ink drawings.  These pieces were scanned using current digital technology, resulting in digital images.  The digital images were then reproduced, at a greatly-enlarged size, on high-quality watercolour paper, using a special printing process that produces what are called “pigment prints.”  The images look great, and the texture of the watercolour paper gives a sense of original watercolours or ink drawings. 

To give each of his reproductions a personal touch–and perhaps also to prevent his digital images from being unlawfully duplicated–Cohen has stamped by hand each of the reproductions with his personalized stamps.  These include a Chinese character for the name he was given when he was a Buddhist monk, two linked hearts forming an image resembling a Star of David, and a small bird reminiscent of the bird that figures in some of his paintings and drawings.

Seeing Cohen’s reproductions and learning about the reproduction technique employed got me interested in trying at least the same basic printing process to reproduce some of my iPad art.  I reproduced some of my tomato images for Christmas cards at a small, local, print shop, on a shiny card stock, and the images didn’t turn out particularly well–although it was fun to have made my own Christmas cards this year.  The employee at Granville Fine Art who was so helpful told me the name of the printing company used by Cohen, and where the company is located.  Apparently, there are not yet any printing companies in Vancouver that offer the process.

Incidentally, if anyone didn’t get the reference, the image I created to illustrate this post is a homage to Cohen’s song, ‘Suzanne’–especially the line “She feeds you tea and oranges . . .”  Of course, in this blog, you don’t get oranges but, rather, tomatoes.

 

 

A CHANGE OF PLANS

I mentioned at the end of my last post that this post might be about Douglas Coupland’s Massey Lectures book from last year, Player One: What is to Become of Us.  I read the first ‘lecture’, but I didn’t find it particularly compelling.  Also, I realized after I started reading the book that the things that most interest me about Coupland’s Massey Lectures can’t be answered by just reading the book.  These are why Coupland chose to present his lectures in the form of a novel and how the Massey Lectures selection committee, and lecture audience members and readers of the book, reacted to Coupland presenting the Massey Lectures in this form. (This was the first time the Massey Lectures consisted of fiction.)  If and when I’m able to obtain answers to such questions (there may be relevant information available somewhere on the Internet), I will share the answers in this blog.

In the meantime, among the Christmas presents I received this year was an annual membership at the Vancouver Art Gallery, that got me down to the Gallery last week.

  

 A VISIT TO THE VANCOUVER ART GALLERY

Out With the Old

The last show I saw at the Vancouver Art Gallery was Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art–a show I’d very much enjoyed–so it had been about two years since I’d been inside the Gallery. This was before I started to come across articles and commentary in the local press, about a year ago, concerning the desire of its current Director, Kathleen Bartels, to relocate the Gallery and expand it to about twice its present size.  My feeling, based mainly on the importance of the exterior structure and surrounding grounds of the VAG as a nucleus in downtown Vancouver for various community activities, was that the Gallery should stay where it is.  Although it had been about two years since I’d been inside the Gallery (and the interval between that visit and the one prior was almost as long), I quite frequently attended community events that were held on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery, more often than not because I just happened to pass by the site and saw that something interesting was going on.  (For example, during the Winter Olympics of 2010, the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery was one of the focal points downtown.  Activities included the Gallery itself showing films on outdoor screens.)  A public gallery at the proposed new location, on the outskirts of downtown, was unlikely to ever come to serve the important civic function of a gathering place for the community–and whatever enterprise took over the existing site (very likely, the building itself would be torn down) was unlikely to be as accommodating to community needs. 

Although I previously felt the VAG should stay where it is based mainly on the current importance of its exterior structure and grounds, after seeing the two main exhibitions currently running at the VAG, I’m at least equally concerned about a possible overall decline in the quality of the work that would be shown at a Gallery that was twice the size of the present Vancouver Art Gallery.  Also, based on seeing these exhibitions after spending so much time on my new iPad of late, much of that time on-line with easy access to digital images of art work from around the globe (for example, in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been on the website of the British painter, David Hockney, to look at his iPad art, and have checked out recent paintings by the New York painter, Medrie MacPhee, with whom I went to highschool), I wonder if traditional large galleries, with room after room of pictures hanging on the walls, are already an anachronism–except, perhaps, in those cases where a gallery’s collection truly is exceptional.  The activities for which most public galleries seem to be best suited in the digital age can, I think, be conducted in relatively small spaces, no bigger than the current Vancouver Art Gallery. 

The current exhibition on the VAG’s main floor, Shore, Forest and Beyond: Art from the Audain Collection, is, as the title suggests, a collection of diverse pieces from the private collection of one of the main, if not the main, benefactor of the VAG, Michael Audain, who made his fortune building and selling homes.  The exhibition on the second floor, An Autobiography of Our Collection, consists of another diverse assortment of pieces, this one from the VAG’s own collection, including pieces that are rarely, if ever, shown publicly.  According to VAG promotional material, this is because of the lack of space in the currently facility–although I think there may be other factors involved.

So much of the work that was on display, from both collections, seemed, at least to me, to not merit being on display in a publicly-funded gallery, especially in the current day and age.  Some of the pieces were downright ugly, second-rate, pieces by artists who had done other good work, although that work wasn’t included in either exhibition. (These include a small skyscape by the Group of Seven artist, Frederick Varley, that looked like thick, gray, mud slathered on a canvas, and a large oil painted by Attila Richard Lukacs that is very unsettling, not for its homoerotic subject matter but rather for the poorly-executed proportions of the male figures central to the painting.)  Several other pieces had lost the allure that they once had, even to me, due to technological change and just the passage of time.  (A small, unremarkable, photograph mounted in a light-box, by the Vancouver-based, internationally renowned, photographer, Jeff Wall, seemed pathetic at least twenty year’s after the creation of this piece, in an age in which we commonly see backlit images on our computers and other electronic devices.  Paul Wong’s video that was shown at the VAG in 1985, in which gay couples talk about their sexuality, is anachronistic on so many levels.)  That enlarged realtor’s ad in the Audain Collection just didn’t belong in the Vancouver Art Gallery, plain and simple.

Rather than get the sense that there was so much “great work” that the VAG, and its benefactor, Audain, would be able to show if only the VAG were larger, I got the sense that the VAG, and Audain, should be doing some housecleaning now, getting rid of some of the less interesting (to put it kindly) works that they’ve been hoarding.  This is, of course, only after a digital archive has been created of all of the works that they discard, or recycle, which would take up much less space.  Also, some of the work, like that muddy skyscape by Varley, might actually benefit from being viewed on a computer screen, with some light passing through it, as opposed to on a wall.

Besides much of the work that was on display in these two exhibitions seeming, to me, to not merit being shown in a publicly-funded gallery, at least not in the present age, I also was put off by the heterogeneity of both collections, with the diverse works packed together in close quarters.  For the purposes of my viewing enjoyment, a stronger curatorial hand would have helped, especially with the exhibition of the VAG’s own holdings.  For example, I would have been interested in knowing more about the VAG’s evolving acquisition policies over the years, and more about concurrent trends in the art world in general that may have affected acquisition policies.  But the point of these exhibitions didn’t seem to be to please VAG visitors but, rather, to create in them sufficient discomfort that they would come to the conclusion that a new and a larger space was needed for the Vancouver Art Gallery.

The conclusion I reached after seeing these shows was quite different.  However, it seems that it may be too late now to do anything to help prevent Bartels’ plans from going ahead.  According to information in the popular press, Bartels’ plans have been tentatively approved by Vancouver City Council, contingent on the VAG being able to raise $300 million dollars.  With Michael Audain as the Chair of the Fundraising Committee, it appears that, even in these tough economic times, this goal will be reached before too long.  Maybe, now that I’m officially a member of the Vancouver Art Gallery, I’ll attend some of the VAG meetings, and find out more about what is going on here.  If expansion is inevitable, I’ll probably support the compromise position proposed by a local architect of building down, on the existing site, as opposed to relocating.

 In With the New

When I’d almost given up hope on the Vancouver Art Gallery ever again presenting shows that are of real interest to me, that make good use of current technology, and that acknowledge the increased desire of art patrons to participate, and not just consume art, I came across information about the “Grand Hotel” show that will be running at the VAG during the summer, an interactive show that already has an online presence, and for which I’ve registered to get email updates.  There’s also a sculpture show running at the VAG “off-site” space, that I’ve never previously visited, which seems very interesting.  I’m sure I’ll be able to make good use of my new membership, in one way or the other.  (Thank you, once again, Linda and Derek.) 

 

 

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