Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars)

Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars)  $10,000 quilt

Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars)
71″ x 31.5″
Cotton fabric, wool batting, polyester thread
Reverse applique and quilting

$10,000 quilt detail 1

“Why are works by Marlene Dumas worth millions and those by the stylistically similar Chuck Connelly worth next to nothing? Because surplus capital in the hands of a small group of moneyed types decrees it so, by fiat. Disparities between surplus capital and “normal” market behavior…create two distinct “markets.” The high-end market just described is the seeking of surplus capital for true value, which lands on a work of art, because that work of art is perceived as unique, often in a highly arbitrary manner that disregards questions of esthetics and connoisseurship. The news is not that a Picasso is worth $100 million, but that $100 million is worth the Picasso!”

Charlie Finch, A NEW MARKET THEORY OF ART

After reading this and this, I concluded that high-end art is a form of currency for elites. Art museums and critics encourage us peasants to believe the value in these “priceless art treasures” is based on utility (i.e., the more they cost, the more “genius” they contain). But the value of high end art is due to collectors attaching their surplus capital to it.

$10,000 quilt detail 2

A million-dollar painting has all the utility of a million-dollar bill. Its value is created not by the artist, but by the collector. When a reputable collector puts a million dollars into a painting, another collector may buy it for more than a million dollars. The art market forms its own economy, with its own financial industry:

“During the 1980s, Charles Saatchi started to corner the market by buying up the inventory of one artist, such as Sean Scully, and then dumping the work en masse, presumably for economic gain. Now, collectors such as Daniel Loeb and Aby Rosen also assemble dozens of works by a single artist (Loeb has close to 300 Martin Kippenbergers), but they have so much money that art collecting is a game for them that mimics their larger financial speculations. Using a hedge model, these collectors are able to manipulate the valuations of their holdings based on their internal financial realities, not on any outside demand per se. That is what hedging is.”  ibid.

$10,000 quilt detail 3

(This explains the prominence of collectors at art events. I used to wonder why collectors were such a big deal. Wasn’t Art about the work itself? If anything came second to the work, wouldn’t it be the artist(s)? Why so much attention bestowed upon the collectors? In my naiveté, I thought it was just cynical and desperate ass-licking by arts organizations. Now I realize that collectors are the prime – or only – originators of high-end art value. Anyone can paint, but only a tiny elite can buy a painting for a million dollars.)

$10,000 quilt detail 8

To recap: displaying a million-dollar art work is akin to displaying a million-dollar bill, but with a certain cachet (“disavowal” was Pierre Bourdieu’s term) that is part of its price. But there are no million-dollar bills. That’s one of the reasons collectors need million-dollar paintings. When you own as much wealth as a small nation you can commission your own currency. Or better yet, pick and choose your currency from an enormous market of would-be currency designers. (The 1970’s board game “Masterpiece” hints at this; “value” cards are randomly paired with painting cards, an amusing sendup of the Fine Art World that was utterly lost on me as a child, although I did enjoy looking at the pictures.)

$10,000 quilt detail 4

I wanted to make a quilt that looked like a million-dollar bill. Unfortunately the highest denomination bill I could find online at high resolution was $10,000. That’s painfully low, because

“increments of $100,000 are to today’s contemporary art market what $10,000 was in the 1980s and $1,000 was in the ‘60s.” ibid.

But that’s what I had to work with. In fact the $10,000 bill isn’t in circulation today. But it does look like “money” (unlike the $100,000 Gold Certificate) so in that way it fits the bill, so to speak.

$10,000 quilt detail 5

Ironically (for ironic juxtaposition!) quilts are among among the most under-valued art forms. They also require more skill and time than almost any other art-making technique I’ve tried. The selling price of quilts seldom covers the costs of materials; quilters often prefer to give their quilts away. An “expensive” quilt usually costs more than the value of materials, but less than minimum wage for labor. I recently met a master quilter whose beautiful wall quilt, which took months of expert work and won many awards, was professionally appraised at $3,500. This is considered very high; had it not been widely displayed and won many awards, it would be “worth” far less. Betty Busby is an art quilter I admire whose works have broken through the “high” end of quilt prices into the “bargain-basement low” end of art prices.

$10,000 quilt detail 6

Is it because quilts have so much utility (“use-value”) that they can’t get traction as high art? Is it because quilting is historically “women’s work”? Is it because quilting is often kitschy, popular in the middle-class Midwest that many aspiring art-worlders move to New York to get away from? Is quilting too white? (The now-famous Gee’s Bend quilters would be an exception to prove this rule.) Is it because many quilters are insane about copyright, going out of their way to restrict knowledge of their work?

Who knows. Meanwhile, here is a Ten Thousand Dollar quilt.

$10,000 quilt Nina Paley signature tag

P.S. This sucker was a ton of work. The Muse made me do it. A master quilter I ain’t. Quilt appraisers would scoff because I don’t properly tie off and hide my threads, and because there are some puckers and pleats in the quilting. But if I billed the hours I put into this as an animator, I would invoice more than $10,000.

P.P.S. Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars) will be on display at my upcoming Art Quilt Show at Sleepy Creek Vineyards.


Share

Kids Today

This afternoon I gave a Sita Sings the Blues talk to a roomful of 15-to-17-year-olds. Near the end I explained Free Culture and my stance against copyright, which led to some interesting discussion. Turns out most of them are manga fans, and familiar with publishers’ complaints about scanned and translated manga shared freely online. They all read them anyway (except one, who prefers to read entire manga in the bookstore). I asked them how they would choose to support artists they liked (once they had some disposable income) and they said:

  1. Donate buttons – with the qualification that they want to know as much as possible about where the donation is going. They said honesty and transparency are important.
  2. Kickstarter – They all knew about it (which was notable because none of them had heard of Flattr) and valued pitch videos that explained how the money would be used.
  3. Custom drawings
  4. Merch
  5. Physical copies
  6. Live Shared Experiences, including ballet, museum exhibits, and concerts. The event aspect was important; they wanted to be able to say, “Remember that one time when that awesome show was here…” They agreed seeing things in person is a more powerful experience than seeing things online, and worth spending more on. One said she would buy CD at a live show because “it reminds you of the show.”
  7. One said he would support artists by promoting their work to his friends.

Semi-related, I took an informal poll of how many would prefer to read a book on paper vs. an e-reader. The vast majority said paper, but what they really seemed to want was dual formats: paper copies to read comfortably and collect, and digital copies to search and reference. Makes sense to me. Only two of them had iPads, and none used them for “enhanced eBooks.”

My favorite quote of the afternoon:

“We don’t want everything for free. We just want everything.”

 

Share

My New Hobby

is sewing/quilting/embroidery/textile arts.

Here’s my first quilt ( a small one, 29″ x 17.5″) which I finished last night. It’s for my Momz, who requested “a nude with all the bells and whistles.”

Everything I learned from teh interwebs, which is full of quilting information and many good videos. I especially like the web site & videos of Leah Day, who makes free motion quilting look much easier than it is. Leah shares her videos and knowledge freely, which works – I’m a fan now, and spent over $250 at her online quilting store. It’s a business model I’m familiar with.

Speaking of business models, there’s an argument made by copyright advocates that no one would do anything creative without monetary (or monopoly) incentives:
Incentive to Create

My past few weeks exploring quilting confirms this is absolutely not true. In less than a month of getting myself set up with a sewing machine, fabric, threads, and other supplies, I’ve probably shelled out $1,000. It started with an inexpensive sewing machine ($250), but then I needed special feet for it, and cutters, and an iron, and pins, and threads, and batting, and fabric, and a sewing table, and IKEA drawers to hold all this stuff, and on and on. And that was being budget-conscious; I could easily spend a lot more. In fact I really, really want a longer machine with more space under the arm; unfortunately those cost about $3,000.

I’m not alone: tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans pay for the privilege to create, not the other way around. Most quilters are not paid; most actually give their work away, to family, friends and charities. That’s folk art, people: it’s not done for money. And yes, it is art.

It’s very much like filmmaking, which is now a folk art.

“The film business has never been a business. It’s always been a hobby.” –someone whose name I don’t remember at a film conference I attended last year

Even setting aside independent film productions, which are hobbies in business clothing, most people spend more on video cameras and computers than they’ll ever get back selling their work. With the spread of cheap animation software, animation is now a folk art too. With the rise of print-on-demand self-publishing, novel-writing is also becoming folk art (Pirates of Savannah by Tarrin Lupo is what I’d call a folk art novel). All the super-elite arts of the 20th Century are becoming folk art.

Would I still like to make money with this? Yes, I would. But I’ve already spent plenty of money with no promise of monetary return. It’s been worth it so far, because learning has been exhilarating. Hopefully traditional folk arts, like quilting, will continue to gain respect as “real” art, even as “real” arts are adopted by the masses. I confess I would like to sell original pieces, if I keep making them. It’s really up to my Muse.

After the jump are some pictures of the making of “Eve,” which took 3 days (4 if you include the day I designed it):

Continue reading “My New Hobby”

Share

Turning down Netflix

Sita Sing the Blues has a few Endorsed DVD distributors. In addition to QuestionCopyright.org and myself, there’s FilmKaravan, a distribution collective that handles “downstream” deals with VistaIndia and IndiePix. Their distributions are on amazon.com (I get a much smaller percentage from those than from my DVDs, but they reach a much wider market) and Netflix.

In addition to physical DVD rentals, Netflix offers subscribers instant electronic delivery: streaming movies over the Internet to Mac, PC, Wii, PS3 and Xbox players. Many subscribers conveniently find new titles through this service. It’s just the sort of distribution channel that benefits a small film like Sita. They also pay producers, and don’t demand exclusivity. It’s a good deal all around, except for one problem: DRM.

DRM, or Digital Restrictions Management, is technology “to control use of digital media by preventing access, copying or conversion to other formats by end users.” At best DRM reduces the functionality of computers; at worst it invades privacy and adds surveillance and malware. DRM End User License Agreements (EULAs) force users to surrender rights well beyond what copyright restricts.

In the last few years DRM has grown increasingly pervasive, with little-to-no press coverage. Consumers passively accept it, as proven by Apple’s new “everything-DRM” device, the iPad.

Creators, too, are accepting DRM as a fact of media distribution; offered no alternatives, they lose their ability to even imagine alternatives. DRM, like rights monopolies, is said to be made for creators. But like copyright, DRM is designed to benefit Big Media conglomerates, not artists.

If this type of invasion of privacy were coming from any other source, it would not be tolerated. That it is the media and technology companies leading the way, does not make it benign. (link)

A few weeks ago a content aggregator called Victory Multimedia contacted FilmKaravan:

Netflix has shown interest in carrying your title “Sita Sings the Blues” for Electronic Delivery.  For a 12 month license period they are offering $4,620.00.  You would received $2310.00 no later than 60 days after the Netflix title release date and the balance of $2310.00 will be paid 6 months after the initial payment.

First I asked (Filmkaravan to ask the aggregator to ask Netflix) if Netflix could make a DRM exception for Sita. Unfortunately no such option currently exists in Netflix’s electronic delivery system. Possibly no other filmmakers have even asked for such an option. iTunes used to offer only DRM music, but eventually enough people – including savvy “content providers”? –  demanded DRM-free channels that they now offer DRM-free music for sale along with Defective options (all iTunes movies carry DRM). Filmmakers lag far beyond musicians in understanding the Internet, so it may be a while before Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and other online distributors allow our “content” in their channels without adding malware and spyware to our films.

I still wanted Sita to be in Netflix’s on-demand system. I want as many people to see Sita as possible; surely many viewers now rely on such a convenient delivery system to explore new films. Anyone who became a fan of Sita this way might still find the film’s web site, and learn how to download a free copy for themselves. Although Sita’s site states:

You are not free to copy-restrict (“copyright”) or attach Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) to Sita Sings the Blues or its derivative works.

I could still grant special permission to Netflix to add DRM to Sita. I asked if I could add a card to the front of the movie stating simply:

Download and share this film from:

sitasingstheblues.com

The aggregator responded this was not possible, due to a Netflix “no bumpers” policy.

Looking back, I was conflicted because it was hard for me to see the DRM on Netflix’s streaming service as problematic. It’s not as though Netflix is telling anyone they’re “buying” the movies they stream; they’re just “renting” them. “Rental” already implies restrictions and limited use terms. They’re just trying to make the Internet work like the physical world, imposing artificial scarcities to resemble the natural scarcities of physical DVD rentals. We can accept natural scarcities; why not accept artificial ones?

I was so conflicted, I asked my “Facebook friends” for advice. Responses were pretty split. Only a few knew what DRM was, but understood I could be compromising my principles by endorsing its use. Was that compromise significant? Was it time to “rise above my principles”?

Facebook, being a walled garden whose “business model is spying,” is problematic itself; obviously I use it anyway, although I don’t expect it to be around in a few years unless it opens up. Two of my moral guidestars don’t use it out of principle, and I emailed them for advice. Richard Stallman wrote,

I faced the same sort of question today: whether to approve release of my biuography with DRM for the iBad. I said no, because the fight against DRM is my cause, and the iBad is the most extreme attack against computer users’ freedom today.

It is self-defeating to try to promote a cause by supporting a direct attack against it.  Lesser forms of participation in things that you hope to eliminate can be overlooked, but Netflix is something we must specifically fight.  The example you would set by giving in would undermine everything….

We launched an action against Netflix.  We tell people, “Don’t be customers of Netflix.”

So I learned Netflix DRM was “real” DRM, rental or not. DefectiveByDesign.org asks people who rent physical DVDs from Netflix, to protest their DRM-laden electronic delivery service.

It was John Gilmore’s email that hit me where I live:

Don’t post your film via a DRM service.

Insist that Netflix is free to release it without DRM, but they cannot release it with DRM.

Creators keep knuckling under to these media middlemen who push DRM onto end users for their own lock-in reasons.  Like Apple. Like CDbaby.

It will take pushback from creators to change this.  Be the change that you want to see….

I’ve been the “change I want to see” in regards to copyright monopolies. People told me I’d lose everything by copylefting Sita, including all hope of professional distribution. But in fact, some professional distributors became willing to distribute Sita without claiming monopolies over it, and we’re all fine.

I’d still love Sita to be offered through Netflix’s online channels; if they ever offer DRM-free video-on-demand, I hope they remember Sita Sings the Blues.

For now, people will just have to obtain Sita by visiting the vast big Internet outside of Netflix. Most of the Internet still isn’t enclosed by Netflix, or Amazon, or iTunes. Most of the Internet is still Free; I’m doing what little I can to keep it that way. I’m sad to lose the potential viewers who may have found Sita through Netflix’s electronic delivery. But maybe some of those Netflix subscribers will discover the rest of the Internet because of my tiny act of resisting DRM.

Share