Sunday, November 6, 2011

How valuable is free?

How valuable is free art?

If the recent trend of asking for open source spec art is anything to go off, apparently free art is not only worthless it is totally disposable.

"Spec work" is an accepted term within art circles meaning "speculative work". This is art done for free by an artist hoping it will "pay" off for them after its creation. That payment can be direct in the form of royalties on this piece after it gets noticed and/OR indirect payment where the piece gains the artist enough attention that they get other commissions.

This use of the term "open sourcing" is an almost misleading slant of the term used by design firms and art departments. In this singular definition, open sourcing means something akin to an open audition. There are a limited number of vacancies that need to be filled and anyone is free to try out to fill them. It there are more applicants than vacancies the excess will be turned away.

So my question amounts to how valuable is free art if it is subjected to a mass audition where most of it is not going to be used?

The reason I ask is that palaeontologists and museums are starting to try out open source spec work as a solution to cutbacks and finances being tight. The open sourcing tends to take the form of an art contest or competition, with the goal of generating lots of free palaeo-art from which the contest holder can select a piece for their uses.

I sympathize with their financial restraints. I really do (speaking as a former museum science educator). So don't get me wrong. I am not arguing against spec palaeo-art. In fact I have recommended doing palaeo-art for free in the past as a means of getting your foot in the palaeo-art door.

The issue I have is the open sourcing. Making volunteer work expendable devalues the effort, energy, and art created by the artists. Which when you consider that asking artistic work to be done for free already devalues the work, additionally making spec work disposable can be seen by some artists as rubbing salt in an already existing wound.

There is an implication with open soucring that art is easy to make. Why else would you so casually ask lots of people to make it and feel that only picking the cream of the crop is okay? Its not like the losers are going to notice their fruitless efforts, is what this says to me.

Sorry but art is not easy to make. It takes hours and hours Especially if we're talking scientific illustrations, which is what we've seen contests asking for now. The research, drafts, and final versions take hours and hours to complete. If a contest attracts any attention, and only picks a single winner, we're seeing hundreds of artist hours tossed out the window... for no gain to the artists, the science, or the world of palaeo-art in general...

To me this is like holding a contest to describe a new fossil, for scientists. Everyone has to submit a final paper, but only one will "win". All the other papers, research, and work will just be thrown out metaphorically and in spirit. Only that which is published exists in science, and funny enough art as well. No scientists would participate in this. So why do they think it is okay to do it to us artists?

I suspect they sense it is wrong, even if they can't actually articulate it. There are an awful lot of rationals that are used to try and pass off these contests as "fun" and "worthwhile" to artists. These include the chance to win glory and notoriety, a chance to finally break into the competitive world of palaeo-art, and you're helping out the science.

Superficially these are all true, but they are not really honest to the artist as to what they are going to get. To me these are just rationalizing a form of exploitation (whether it be intentional or not). Let me break it down for you

The "Glory" of Acknowledgement

If the gig was so important to truly gain real "glory" and "notoriety" every professional and their dog would be lining up for the job. Glory and notoriety imply something huge in impact and coverage. I've been noticing these palaeo-art gigs still attract professionals (though I don't know if they are paid or not).

So lets restate these words for what they really amount to in your average open source spec contest's project, recognition and attention. If your not going to pay your artist(s), the least you can do for them is give them the attention and acknowledgement their work deserves. This is not a prize, and please don't try to pass it off as one! Scientists expect their research and work to be acknowledged, why not the work of their artists too?!? You're not giving the art winner a "prize" with acknowledgement, you're just punishing the losers by withholding it from them, frankly...

Chance to break into Palaeo-art

If your piece is chosen out of the pile you'll finally get your work used in a legitimate capacity. I won't lie this is a prize, and a good one. So I'm not going to harp on it directly. There is a definite appeal for artists here (speaking myself as an aspiring amateur).

The problem I have is do we artists truly need to submit brand new work to get this chance?

I get that the contest is the scientist's way of buffering against the lack of a reliable and tested palaeo-artist. They can't be sure what a new name is going to bring to the table. The contest is a way of insuring quality control and an adequate pool of potential artwork. However the asking for brand new art frankly strikes me as laziness.

The scientist couldn't be bothered to do a little bit of homework in finding an artist, and so lots of artists have to make up for their lack of effort

Why couldn't the artists just submit portfolios of already completed work? Or why doesn't the scientist get involved in the large diverse palaeo-art communities on the web, such as here on ART Evolved or those on Flickr or DeviantArt, and find someone she/he can work with from those interactions? Only a tiny amount of energy would have to be expeded looking into potential amateur artists these days. There are more and more of us heavily promoting our selves on the web. You seriously couldn't just approach your favourites from the online portfolios?

The other problem I have is that this offer implies we can't make it on our own. While it might be true that this one scientist's offer could be our big break, it is by no means our only chance!

Instead of using (dare I say wasting?) your time on a piece that is specific to the spec art contest why not just create a unique portfolio piece? Creating work for this spec contest might fit in your portfolio too, but anyone paying attention will know about the contest and realize immediately you were one of the "losers". I can see this hurting you on occasion rather than helping it.

More to the point strengthening your portfolio to attract a more committed "client" is a safer bet than open source spec work. If a client approaches just you due to your portfolio your work is far more likely to be used than the crapshoot of entering into a contest. Why not invest your efforts into this model. Even if you generate just more spec work, at least you'll be actually guranteed a return on your artistic investment...

It is good for the science

This is just a lame thing to say! Manipulating our emotional and moral responsibility, just for your own personal gain!

Yes palaeo is in trouble these days, and yes we'd all love to help it out. Preying on our desire to help by guilting us into action though, that is just plain slimy.

How does a bunch of artists wasting time on art that will never see (the proper) light of day help anyone but that one lazy scientist exactly?

Just selecting one artist to do your project, and allow all those other artists to do their own thing and cover more of the science, rather than waste their art time on just you. More varied and diverse palaeo-art, that would be helping the science

Instead of a contest or any other open source spec art...

We need to stop this model of mass artist participation for little gain to anyone (other than the one receiving the art).

Right away scientists, museums, and other empowered parties in palaeontology please respect your artists work.

There are those who say not paying them is disrespectful enough. I'm not quite one of those. However simply acknowledging the fact the artist could have done any number of other things than helping you specifically out is the least you can do.

Engage only one artist on a final piece unless your willing to properly compensate them for their time.

If you still want the open audition format, which is fair when dealing with new unknown talent, please just ask for portfolios of existing work, rather than submissions of new art. It is way more respectful to the artist, nearly as informative about their abilities, and frankly doesn't waste participants efforts or art time!

Another fantastic model is David Hone's recent call for artists. While being open source and spec work, Dr. Hone is compensating participants with direct scientific feedback and critiques on their scientific reconstructions. This is Dr. Hone compensating ALL the interested artists with his own time on feedback that will help them in their quest for palaeo-art fame and glory in the future. This is a perfect model. Even the "losers" win something, and thus there are no losers. Only winners of varying degrees!

To artists, they'll stop asking for mass submissions of new non-paid art if we stop giving it to them. While there is some wiggle room in the paid vs. non-paid debate of art, simply respect for the art you produce should not be negotiable or given up. Participating in open source spec calls not only devalues your art and the work you put into it, but it encourages such tactics to spread.

Soon we could find ourselves doing pieces for free, and arriving at the end of the creative process expectations of mere publication and acknowledgement only to find suddenly our piece has been replaced because the "client" found another piece they liked better... (Don't say it couldn't happen... it has to me now twice. Thus this angry rant post!)

Artist's work should be respected and seen for what it is. Especially when it is done for free. It is a gift. Treat like such palaeontologic community!


Victoria said...

I have been following the discussion of ‘free’ palaeoart generated by Scott Persons’ gallery suggestion in the late summer here at Art Evolved. I’m not a palaeoartist, but I am a palaeontologist in training, and I’m becoming increasingly puzzled by some of these discussions.

I am pretty sure that most palaeontologists understand that art is not easy to make, or else they would do it themselves. It also does not seem unreasonable to me to use the internet to find palaeoartists through calls for art. I have been under the impression that most of these ‘crowd sourced’ art projects are generally not requesting completed art, but sketches or rough drafts, from which to make a final selection. I don’t think it’s a great idea to ask for completed artworks before making a decision, but surely it is not out of line to ask for concept sketches. I think this is a pretty interesting way to find new styles and approaches. You also mention that scientists should get involved with communities like Art Evolved – well, isn’t suggesting galleries and art contests one way for us to be involved? What sort of involvement are you looking for?

You mentioned that this crowd-sourcing is akin to holding a contest for scientists to describe a new fossil. I don't think that happens very often, but you know what does? Grant writing. Lots of people will apply for any one grant/scholarship/fellowship/award. Not everyone will get it. This is, unfortunately, how science works – a lot of time and effort is expended in applying for funding to conduct science, and it doesn’t always pay off. You learn from your failures, and you improve for the next time. Or you don’t, and you don’t get money, and maybe you don’t succeed in the long term. It sucks, but it is the outcome on occasion.

Ultimately, we’re all in this together. Palaeontologists want to see artists succeed, because artists bring our animals to life. The sad reality is that there isn’t enough funding to go around for everyone, and in particular it is very, very difficult to get funding for palaeoart through scientific grants and awards. It will take a concerted effort by palaeontologists and artists working together to change the attitude of funding agencies that palaeoart is not part of the scientific process. Ultimately I would like to see palaeoartists considered as essential as prep technicians – without the latter you cannot begin your research, without the former you cannot finish it. I don’t think the generalizations that are often used at this blog, with an ‘us vs. them’ attitude, are going to help matters.

Traumador said...

Okay so to clear up any confusion about this post, it is NOT a direct response, continuation, or commentary on Scott Person's contest this summer on ART Evolved. His contest is one of MANY that has prompted this post, but in no way shape or form do I hold Scott in any ill view (nor MOST of the other contest holders).

The majority of that debate on Scott's contest was on the merits of doing art for free or not. The debate was between professional artists (those that making their monetary living off their art) and art hobbists (who do art for fun in their spare time).

In that debate it was debated as to whether money should be the only thing an artist accepts for the creation of their work or not.

The pros were of the opinion money or no art, and they are entitled to their opinion (especially as it is how they put food on their table), but I personally believe they have no ground to stand on to enforce it.

Hobbists can, will, and do make art for other people for free. I don't think there is anything wrong with that... SO long as they get a minimum return on their artististic effort.

This is my issue. I don't care about the "free" art of that last discussion.

My problem is with waste of free artist investment and work when the only thing they are competeting for, acknowledgement and recognition, is what they should be getting in the first place, and that losers of the contest do not even get that!

This is just reply 1. I just wanted to clarify how this is not really anything to do with Scott's request here. It is to do with his tactic. However I emphasis he is not the only one. It is the development of crowd sourcing art that is the problem.

Traumador said...

So to start off I think you miss my point about the imaginary scientist contest when you compared it to a grant.

Yes you compete for grants, but grants give money. That puts it into a new category. If you get the grant you get paid. It is now into the category of a job application of sorts (a *BEEP*ed up and stupid one... I do feel for you, but you still get money). If palaeo-art contests were paying us for the win no problem. At least that is a concrete reward we're competing for.

I'm talking about a contest that asks us to put in that same sort of work, and the prize is simply being acknowledged for our voluntary work with publication. No money, nothing, except the winner gets acknowledgement for all that free work...

The losers, they get NOTHING despite the effort they did for free. Effort that was in essence a favour to the scientist holding the contest. That is my issue.

You wouldn't do grant proposals if they didn't give you guys money.

You expect your work to either pay for your research, or your research to be credited and acknowledged by your peers.

That was my point. A contest simply on research is the only comparable analogy.

We artists, when working for free, should be getting the same rewards scientists get on non paid paper research (which technically for most scientists is paid for by their salary and institution). Credit and our chance in the sun.

Or in more accurate terms just like a scientists we need to publish or perish...

Traumador said...

I do agree the "us versus them" thing isn't always helpful.

That said raising the causes of the "us vs. them" problem are needed to stop the issue from continuing.

Am I right in detecting your response being a defense of palaeontologists? My post was the artist side...

While my approach was confrontational, the dialouge it generates will hopefully be positive and constructive. (I hope you see my response as so thus far). I've been using confrontational lately as it has been getting the dialouge noticed.

Again I don't hate palaeontologists. Far from it I have many good palaeontologist friends (you went to skool with several of them in fact I believe Victoria). Nor do I WANT to fight you guys. I just want you to see things from my point of view.

The same way you alerted me to yours.

So with that in mind, here is what I mean by participating on the MANY internet palaeo-art communities (I just have vested interests in plugging this one :P Deviantart in particular has a big one as well).

One thing we artists notice is a general lack of scientist involvement in palaeo-art discussions online. Yes there are a few exceptions, but overall look at the participates on this site and 90-97% are artists or palaeo enthusiasts.

Yet palaeo-art is one based on science. We need scientific input. We typically settle for indirect sources like papers and publications.

Yet how great would it be if we got the odd direct address, comment, post (which Scott Person has done for us... definately a big part in why we held his contest) from a scientist has a bearing on our work. Think of how many common misconceptions or inaccuracies could disappear from palaeo-art if we had palaeontologists giving us direct input. Participating in our communities a bit for the sake of participating.

If we just have you guys popping by to ask us for (free) art and not contribute directly to our discourse, this becomes almost exploitive (I say almost... I know we exist to create palaeo-art. However we also want to engage in the science and the scientists. Only having you guys acknowledge us by saying "give me your stuff" isn't quite what we had in mind).

The model I would love to see is scientists engaging us artists on the web every now and then. Not a big investment. Rather popping by once a month or two and making a few comments and getting to know us and a our art a little bit. From there I'm sure you could find an artist or two you jive with and can build up a "professional" rapport with. In this model your both on a similar page before starting the art, and.

That is why I see contests as lazy. The contest holder doesn't interact with us, that alone get to know us at all. They just appear for a moment, ask us to do them a favour and disappear.

Even just having someone we know hold a contest would go a long way to clearing up the respect for the artists or not. Again a contest for free art is asking essentially a favour. We typically do favours for people we know.

Also much like technicans we artists improve with interacting with scientists. Inversely our art improves for the scientists...

Right now that isn't happening enough...

Traumador said...

One last point on the "us vs. them" point (a very good one you raise Victoria) I think part of your confusion on the "free" argument that Scott's contest rose, is that the art community is NOT a unitied entity at all these days.

There is a growing void between professional artists and amateurs. The rather confrontational emails by Gregory Paul captured this hostility and divide.

The splintering of the palaeontologic world into such factions is alarming, but we need to recognize it is happening and try to resolve the causes.

davidmaas said...

There is an "us" and there is a "them". Anything else is naive - we all have motivations and expectations and if these are not mutual then we have a 'vs' between the two.

Defining the one as "paleontologists" and the other as "artists" is also fairly vacuous, so case-by-case comparison of motivations. Do we fit? Do we not?
Have valuable is what I have to offer? How valuable is what I get? My personal experience is that shockingly enough, paleontologists are human. Some have no organization, communication and team skills, while others do. Same with artists.

I don't regret having contributed to Scott Person's call - I came up with a fun sketch that took about an afternoon of my time. I tried to encourage a community approach to it, sharing our various approaches etc. but it went no where and Scott did very little in the way of direction. I recently happened across another entry by niroot and - wow, was it good! For me, exchange and learning is primary, and I would have enjoyed more of that on Scott's call. We don't have to learn directly from the scientist, we can learn from each other. Niroot's was awesome, and I see immediately how mine fails to stack up, but also what makes mine mine - what I would like to pursue. I also participated in part because Scott has shared his work via blog posts and outsource work, so his reputation led me to take part. I don't delude myself into thinking my work was of some inherent value to him. I had fun doing it, basta.

And that's the point of it. Set expectations and participate or not based on them. Try things out and learn for the next time.

Community and content-generation are re-defining how things will be done, how much effort it will take and how remuneration might take place. I can't say I'm in a position to judge what's fair for anyone but myself. I just wish I had more time...

Glendon Mellow said...

The fact is, the world of work for creatives still hasn't shaken out into a viable model. Until it does and there's a sort of standard, people will continue to try everything from traditional publishing models, to crowd-sourcing online.

The online world has opened up incredible links and connections between artists and researchers (are any client for that matter) that didn't exist. Most of the work I do is for people I haven't met in person, who don't live in the same country. I can't imagine that being the case 15 years ago.

What model will work out? Will amateurs dominate creative work, and all illustrations become a non-paying hobby? Will something like the traditional print model take its place? Something new and strange?

I don't know.

Victoria said...

Traumador, you said: “You wouldn't do grant proposals if they didn't give you guys money.” But that is exactly the point. When I am assessing requests for my time, there is a mental calculation of the costs and benefits involved. If there was no benefit to me spending time writing grants (ie., they would not provide the money I need to do research), I would not do them. If you see a request for art that does not offer monetary compensation, and you want money, then do not submit free art. Now that being said, there often is a benefit to me writing grants that I suspect I will not win, in that I get practice at writing them and improve over time. I suspect the same is true in the world of art. If you are beyond the stage where you feel this practice benefits you, then perhaps when you see contests like these you could contact the palaeontologist and advertise yourself as a professional to be hired at a professional rate.

Perhaps a better analogue would be poster or talk competitions. At SVP, the student poster prize does come with a monetary award, but this is not true of all poster contests (or the monetary award is very low, ie. <$100). A lot of work goes into creating the poster or talk, and not everybody wins. Those that do win receive recognition, but not necessarily much money. These awards do not help fund your research like a grant would, but they give you additional prestige on your CV, which may later help you secure a permanent position. Whatever the case, all I’m trying to say with this comparison is that by default contests will have winners and losers, and I think that’s something that just needs to be dealt with. Failure is a part of making your way through any career, and you need to decide how you are going to deal with it. If you find the terms of a contest unreasonable, do not participate, and bring up your concerns directly with the person proposing the contest.

Victoria said...

Ok, on to comment #3 by Traumador, the ‘us vs them’ problem. There is a movement at Art Evolved to have more involvement from palaeontologists in discussions of palaeoart, which I think is an excellent thing. However, I see a lot of conflicting statements about what it is the community here actually wants from palaeontologist participation. There was a discussion a few weeks ago about accuracy in palaeoart, and how it isn’t helpful for scientists to come in and simply point out what is wrong with a particular piece of art. This I simply do not understand, and I am afraid I am at a bit of a loss for what you would expect of palaeontologists otherwise. I also haven’t really seen a lot of ‘you’re wrong and that’s that’ comments around the palaeo blogosphere. If you want palaeontologist participation, you must brace yourself for highly critical and nitpicky nerds to descend upon here and provide commentary that may at times seem very harsh, and may not always be very constructive.

You make the statement in your third post that scientific papers are indirect sources of information for palaeoartists. I know the technical literature can be difficult to wade through at times, but scientific papers are NOT indirect sources – they should be the foundational sources upon which you build your art. If you are having trouble accessing or understanding scientific papers, then by all means contact a palaeontologist – most are extremely happy to send PDFs, summarize key findings, or explain points in more detail. You suggest that palaeontologists should individually contact artists they would like to hire, and not crowd-source the art. Surely you cannot argue that the inverse, crowd-sourcing the science, is acceptable then?

Finally, you state that you would like to see palaeontologists popping by once a month to engage palaeoartists. Well, I actually tend to pop by here more than that, but generally I do not comment on most blogs. I comment a bit over at the Dinosaur Toy Blog when ankylosaur stuff pops up, and I write my own blog where palaeoart is a semi-frequent topic. And frankly, when I see comments generalizing palaeontologists as lazy, unethical, or slimy, even if it is not directed specifically at me, I am definitely put off from contributing anything. Although I do not like tone policing on the internet, if the idea is to grow your community to include palaeontologists, this is not the approach to take.

Traumador said...

Victoria- On the subject of my complaints last month about palaeontologists only complaining about mistakes and inaccuracies I humbly request you to read it again.

I didn't target palaeontologists. I was mostly directing that at palaeontology enthusiasts who read papers but do NOT actually write them.

In my experience their nitpicks are the ones that are not overly helpful. They tend to state things in authoritive voices, while not really in a position to claim that authority, as they are simply quoting something they've read...

My interactions with scientists have always been fantastic as they bring insights and opinions that aren't always in the technical literature. While not "true" in a scientific sense, the information they offer is of great use to an artist who also works outside the published science.

So again, read what I actually said. Scientist comments are almost always welcome. It are those who read scientists and can only parrot this reading I have issues with (and this is simply with their tactics).

My second main point was for people to stop reactively attacking palaeo-art after it is created. The damage is done, and it isn't helping anyone. We need to look to methods to prevent the mistakes from happening in the first place!

I am currently putting together the Palaeo-art Database, hopefully for a new year launch, a proactive method to engage palaeo-art inaccuracies. That is boiling down the papers and technical information into short lay person friendly briefs that are freely avaliable on the web. This way inaccurate artists don't have an excuse.

Right now they do. The information to correct their work is locked up within nonopen access journals encrypted in technical jargon. If we take down these barriers together we can setup a solid base to actually clean up palaeo-art.

Traumador said...

Victoria- I just wanted to point out the reasoning behind my post's language and stance based on your own reply:

"Well, I actually tend to pop by here more than that, but generally I do not comment on most blogs...frankly, when I see comments generalizing palaeontologists as lazy, unethical, or slimy, even if it is not directed specifically at me, I am definitely put off from contributing anything"

While I understand what you're getting at here, in reality notice how I write hundreds of pro-palaeontologist posts and I get nothing from you. I write one critical post and I finally get you to engage...

I'm not trying to attack all palaeontologists. I'm trying to get you all to think about what these contests look like to many artists out there. In your case I have succeeded, you've noticed and next time you need art before you think "hmmm should I run a contest?" you'll think of this post and what I've said. What you do from there is your call.

As for lazy, unethical, and slimy scientists, you can't deny they don't exist. At the sametime there are artists out there in the same boat. We totally called Gregory Paul on his BS earlier this year. So please keep that in mind before hinting that we're anti-scientist here. ART Evolved is anti everything bad for palaeo-artists.

I could name names on the scientists I'm thinking of, but it won't do anything productive. However if I alert the good ones like yourself about what their doing, you might take offense... but hopefully you won't do the same as them.

That is my hope with this post.

(and believe me I've had a few exchanges with those individuals... which is why I brought this issue into the light)

Victoria said...

Why would you differentiate between a professional palaeontologist and an interested amateur who can interpret the literature for you? How is parroting a bad thing? Should an amateur palaeoartist judge an amateur palaeontologist? If you feel that the amateur palaeontologist is not providing accurate information, ignore it.

When would comments from
scientists not be welcome?

With regards to criticism of palaeoart after it is created: the art may be finished, but the artist still exists, and will presumably continue to create new palaeoart. I see no problem critiquing completed art, in the same way papers should be critiqued after they are published. Has it ever been instructive for you to look at a piece of classic palaeoart, such as something by Knight or Burian, and to pick apart what is inaccurate and what was done well?

Traumador said...

Victoria- Why do I like scientists feedback more than enthusiasts typically?

In my experience scientists have nothing to prove. Their the real deal. When they tell you you got something wrong it is because you did. It is factual, and usually polite.

When a enthusiast of the SORT I am referring talks to people, there is an edge of chest thumping. "I read more than you, therefore I'm more hardcore". They are compensating for not getting to live the dream of being the palaeontologist. I feel their pain, but I don't need to bare the brunt of it.

Their feedback is not meant to be helpful or sharing the interest with artist. This particular breed of palaeo-fan is trying to prove their a bigger palaeo-fan than everyone else by proving them wrong and therefore "ignorant".

After a while of hearing this sort of feedback (which compared to useful feedback from scientists and nice enthusiasts) it becomes easy to tune it out, or worse go against the science in your art. We have a lot of new younger artists coming up and responding (I don't blame them) by saying how we only know a fraction of what these animals look like. The problem is that this attitude allows totally fantasy things to creep into their work and become memes among their peers.

I want the overbearing enthusiasts to put their knowledge where our art is. Most artists don't have expertise in anatomy because they spent the time to master art. Most anatomy amatuers can't do art due to a reverse of investment.

Instead of "helping" us after the art is done, why not build up easy to access resources for artists to use in the first place. Than to me the critiscm is more concrete. We could have found that out in the first place.

There is certainly a use to SOME critiscm after art is made. However if it is ALL we hear, it becomes less helpful. It comes across as people holding onto the key information for their benefit (the enthusiasts... not the scientists. I know you guys are busy getting more of that info to get for us).

That is my point. I don't have a grudge with scientists on the feedback score. Their the ones busy generating the knowledge. It is the enthusasists who sit on it, and don't spread it in a usful manner I have a problem with.

My ONLY issue with scientists is when they use open sourcing to get FREE art (paid for fine no problem).

Traumador said...

Victoria- While I understand your point about grants and posters, and that I don't have to participate in the contest, this still doesn't make spec art contests okay...

Right away, I want to sympathize with you. The red tape in science and academia SUCKS! I wish you guys didn't have to endure it. Neither of us should have to put up with the obstacles we face to do our parts in palaeontology really.

That said you guys are the ones at the top of the food chain. If you don't like the hoops you have to hop through why inflect them on us?

I also feel you're not comparing the situations fairly between an art contest and even posters.

A discarded poster must be annoying, and I sympathize. However the attrition rate on posters at symposiums or conferences is NOT the same as that for art in a spec art contest. There is not just ONE poster selected at those meetings (you and me have been at a few of the same ones, I know ;P). In most art contests there is only a SINGLE winner.

Grant applications and posters are (potential) credentials for academic jobs. You still get paid for them at some point(even when they fail...)!

Art contests devalue already FREE art to being mostly discardable! If everyone sought art this way, guess what there is no money for any artists anymore. Art gets sought out for free or worse disposably free!

Which is assuming we are trying to make a living. That is my key point about these contests! NO professional artist would take part in a spec contest.

We know that, and the scientist knows it too. So who is really being asked to participate? Amateurs.

Now SOME of us amateurs are content just making art for free, so long as we are helping out the science. All we want is our volunteer work to matter and be acknowledged as a compensation.

Yes, you're right we artists shouldn't participate in these contests if we don't agree with them.

I personally don't for the record!

Those artists that do enter encourage this system in emerging widescale. AE takes them on where we can.

That still doesn't absolve you scientists from open sourcing though! Especially since you are the ones actual responsible for driving the artform in this direction. We artists can encourage it by feeding it, but we ultimately don't actually control it. That ball is within your, the palaeontologists' court. How are you going to play it?

If you truly believe in what you said about valuing artists as much as technicans I implore you to really read what I said in this post, and think about it from our point of view.

davidmaas said...

I've begun responding a few times now, only to abandon the effort. Likely the best course of action....

Craig: I assume the friction stems from specific negative experiences, and wish you the best in getting some cool cooperations that ideally even generate some financial reward.

A few things seem to surface in your words:
first, the focus on financial returns (direct, indirect, down the way) seems out of proportion. While valid, it should be balanced out with a wider context of why it is we're interested in doing this stuff instead of package shots, or editorial graphics. I wouldn't want to work with a paleontologist that treats me the way my clients do.

second, you use "you guys" and "us" so often that I feel you are in fact in an "us vs. them" mindset. If so, go with it... rant. But say "me", "him / her".

If this is going to be constructive, it should be headed towards the formulation of netiquette for such cooperations. ie. if a wide call for artists, then following should be considered / avoided / assured...

For me personally, I expect encounter. I want to create something specific... not a creature, but an animal with all the weird bits and pieces alluded to by the traces it has left. And I am illiterate in reading those traces...

davidmaas said...

I AM becoming literate in reading the papers from those who can read those traces (but only becoming), and I'm even gaining the ability to sniff out whose interpretations and trace-reading skills appeal to me.

Victoria said...

Traumador: You mentioned that we still get paid for grant applications and posters even when they fail. If you mean that we get paid because we do those things while collecting a salary, then I suppose you are correct. But that is simply a difference between a salary-based job and a contract-based job. I should also point out that palaeontology IS actually largely contract-based unless you get a tenure-track faculty position (AND secure tenure!), which may not happen until you are 40. Until then, you are on scholarships, postdoctoral fellowships, or teaching sessionalships, which may last from a few months to five years. I’m not saying that making a living as an artist is easier than making a living as a scientist, far from it. But there is an entrepreneurial aspect to academia that I think a lot of people don’t know about. We’re also not at the top of the food chain! Ultimately that honour goes to the funding agencies...Anyway, this is getting off topic, but the main point I wanted to get across is that academia is not necessarily the land of milk and honey it may appear to be to those on the outside. It is a good job, but like all jobs, it has its own unique set of difficulties.

Moving back on topic: I think there may be a place for free art, especially for those who are just getting started. I also think there is a place for art contests, as these to me seem to be similar to architectural firms bidding on contracts by generating drafts of their building plans. As I mentioned previously, for many scientists there are simply no funds available for commissioning new art or licensing old art (museums are probably a different matter). For a lot of palaeontologists then, the option is to request donated art, to create their own art (which is what I typically do, and you know, it’s not as good as if I hired someone), or to not have any art at all. I will also admit that I personally have no idea how much money to offer someone for a newly commissioned piece of art, and so I typically don’t ask for art because I don’t want to offend someone with too low an offer. I’ve tried looking at the guild of scientific illustrators pricing guide, but it was out of date and there doesn’t seem to be a good up to date alternative. I think it would be really useful to have some sort of pricing guidelines widely available for people to consult if they’re thinking about hiring an artist. But I also think it might be important to recognize that, right now, it may not be possible to make a living doing palaeoart for scientists at universities.

jack Pollock said...

@Victoria: "These awards do not help fund your research like a grant would, but they give you additional prestige on your CV"

One of the things that might be helpful for paleontologists or anyone who doesn't deal with art on a regular basis is to understand that now that there is social networking combined with a bad economy this CV doesn't add up to much.

What I'm starting to see by exploring the paleoart blogosphere more is that

A) paleoart is undergoing a renaissance.
B) The paleoartists nowadays (many or most of whom seem to be on this blog) are some of the best that have ever been.
C) apparently many of them aren't getting paid for their art (at least not up front).

That last one would have been unheard of some years ago.

Again, that is all fine. But many of those talented and skilled artists will, eventually, run into the problem of having to pay their bills. They already do by having "day" jobs (some fortunate enough to have jobs that relate) but one day the demands of either will hurt both.

If an artist can be paid for their skill (formerly not a very controversial notion), and the paleoartist's skill combines, not only aesthetics but precision, and an advanced knowledge of comparative anatomy to name just 2.

And I may have missed some of the discussions but I can't remember anyone being hostile to paleontologists. Certainly not using the word "slimy". I would think the moderator would have sorted that unnecessary and hyperbolic slur out of the discussion.

I think the discussions have been trying to find a way to navigate the newish world of social networking and severe economic restrictions with the *uncontroversial* notion that a time consuming skill should be reimbursed in some fashion.

Traumador said...

Jack- Clarification, I used the word "slimy" in the article in relation to someone holding a open sourced spec art contest and claiming it was for the good of the whole science.

However you are correct this was not aimed at palaeontologists in general, this description was directly aimed at the tactic of preying on palaeo-artist's good intention with false claims.

Art contests do not help the science of palaeontology as a whole, they help that one individual holding the contest. Only one piece of art will truly emerge from the contest... if those artists had all done their own individual pieces the science would have that many more pieces out there working for it. So I stand my by statement. To me that is slimy. At least if they said you'd be helping out MY research it'd be honest (which for the record is what Scott Persons did, as he is a class act).

Slimy also only applies when the art is free. If there is a money prize or a permenant job at the end of the contest I revoke slimy and all other negative labels... Though I do still say it doesn't help the science as whole, but at least it helps the winner in a real way.

I already outlined ways scientists could generate a little more goodwill towards contests in the comments. If they take the effort to get to know the artists that also, I hope, obviously removes the negative statements.

Victoria said...

Jack: Perhaps it would help palaeontologists to know what is used in the art world to advance one’s status and prestige. For a palaeontologist, a CV includes publications, previous work experience, teaching experience, awards, outreach activities, and field experience. I have assumed that artists use a combination of a resume and portfolio. What is the artist equivalent of a CV? How does one typically go about securing a contract? I would be interested to know what the process is like.

No palaeontologist is going to say that remuneration for art is controversial. But my previous points stand – for many palaeontologists, it’s either free art, art at very reduced rate, or no art at all. In that case, surely there is benefit to having high-profile contributions in your portfolio, than nothing at all. This is what I mean when I say there may be benefits to free art. Certainly I would like to see everyone compensated fairly.

Victoria said...

Traumador, I quote your words from the original article: “Yes palaeo is in trouble these days, and yes we'd all love to help it out. Preying on our desire to help by guilting us into action though, that is just plain slimy.” To me, this is a pretty clear statement that palaeontologists, not just scientists in general, are slimy when engaging in this behaviour. If this was not your sentiment, then fine. But you absolutely must be more precise with your words if you do not want to give the impression that you are hostile towards scientists while simultaneously requesting additional assistance from them.

You also mentioned that it took one negative article to prompt me to comment. No, it has taken many articles since August to prompt me to comment. I’m not a commenty kind of person, because I have thin skin and the internet is a scary place. There’s also only so many hours in the day, and if I’m going to participate in a discussion then I’m not going to just flounce in, leave a comment, and never return. Discussions like this one take a relatively substantial amount of time. If you want this community to be a place where palaeontologists feel welcome, then I am telling you that right now it does not seem that way to me. Apparently we are supposed to drop by, but not comment on finished art, and not ask for anything, but also give our time to help others out. Do you see how I find this confusing?

You have provided some basic outlines for how you would like scientists to generate more goodwill towards artists. I am trying to outline ways for the community at Art Evolved to generate more goodwill towards palaeontologists, but I feel many of my points are being flatly ignored. I have pointed out the situation with funding for palaeoart from the university side, suggested that pricing guidelines be more easily accessible, noted that some of the language used here is overly aggressive, and indicated some positives to providing free art. Some of these points at first glance seem to have been addressed, but really you’ve just shifted the goalposts – from palaeontologists, to amateur palaeontologists, to SOME amateur palaeontologists, for example. This is a community I would like to see succeed. But if you aren’t going to address these points, then I think we’re at a bit of an impasse. Whatever the case, I’m afraid this is where I need to end my comments on this article, as I’ll be away from internet for the next two weeks. I will be interested to see where the discussion goes from here.

Traumador said...

Victoria- That is a fantastic question about what is a palaeo-artists job description is. Now I can see where I'm not presenting my case as well as I could be ;)

There is no formal job description being a palaeo-artist or procedure for engaging one to make you palaeo-art. Think of most artists as freelance, unless they work for a firm or design department...

Meaning most of these artists are be working out of a studio if they are full time artists, others can operate out of their own home.

There seriously is no job description in what an artist does. Artists simply deliever what a client asks for. Meaning it is up to the client how the job it going to go down.

This gives art a wonderful adaptive and customizable aspect for both parties. It also means it can be a nightmare if it is lacking in communication or the two parties have different or conflicting expectations.

Our version of a CV is our art portfolio, which is of course is collection of our art work. Though think of this more as a catalouge than a CV. The idea is potential clients look through out work and ask what the timeframe and cost of a certain type of piece will be.

As most artists are freelance, basically ever piece of art is its own self contained job. Meaning unlike a scientist or person in a more stable job, artists go through a version of job interview for every work of art they create.

There is nothing different about these job interviews from any other, apart from artists have to do them all the time to keep up a steady stream of work.

Traumador said...

Victoria- I want to clear the water a bit. As we've been thrashing so much it is getting muddy. I want to take a step back and clarify a few things.

Right away I admit I have unintentially moved the goal posts a bit in here, but would like to politely state you have too.

In your last comment you summarized what I said as this:

"Apparently we are supposed to drop by, but not comment on finished art, and not ask for anything, but also give our time to help others out. Do you see how I find this confusing"

I want to clear this up, as this has resulted from me clearly not being clear, but also perhaps yourself trying to infuse my statements with sentiments that weren't there.

I haven't said people shouldn't comment on completed art. I suggested it is not the best approach, and explained why and assumed you'd read this old post ( as you brought up the topic. If you haven't read this post than none of my comments on art critiscm will make sense without it.

If you have read it and disagreed, I am sorry you disagree BUT I do make art. From what I've seen if we want all artists to improve their scientific accuracy, we need to be proactive. Giving potential nontrained palaeo-artists access to key bits of technical papers in an easy place and language would be far better than telling them about it after the fact.

In that post also I stated AE is planning on taking actions to help with a new strategy, and we still are (you can preview the very partially constructed husk of what I hope is AE's future at I do aplogize if I haven't managed to get it up as fast as I hoped. However I do disagree that in that post I was hostile. You'll see palaentologist Mike Taylor in the comment section endorsing the idea (and giving helpful suggestions about how to get papers).

I also never said scientists should not ask for stuff from us?

Asking for free art is absolutely fine. I have said asking for MORE free art than you need is not okay.

Ask for portfolios of old art to select an artist to do your new piece. If you MUST hold a contest make sure you do something that helps ALL the participants.

People who do free art should be rewarded with recognition their effort deserves. The mere possibility of recognition is not acceptible, unless they are given something else like direct access to a scientist's input and knowledge.

I merely mentioned monetary compensation (admittedly poorly based on the reception by everyone) in an attempt to illustrate how low art has been devalued below free. If we talk about it and treat free art like it is a paying commodity there is a problem (the point of my post).

I don't care that most palaeo-art is done for free these days. I care that the people who do this art should be given the basic recognition for this donation of time and effort.

So those have been my only intended statements for palaentologists. I do not think they are unfair. I do not think they are hostile. Do correct me if I'm wrong, but please contain your opinion now to this ONE comment please. As I feel this is a very neutral and diplomatic clarification. (I'm also not 100% sure which old posts since August you are referring to)

Jack Pollock said...


As for the CV, portfolio or body of work, I was responding to what you wrote:

"These awards do not help fund your research like a grant would, but they give you additional prestige on your CV"

Yes an artist’s body of work is important. And prestige is important. A New Yorker cover is more prestigious than a cartoon in your local paper.

But the promise of "Prestige" has been an old carrot dangled in front of aspiring artists for ages. There's also a danger that the attention that your prestige piece gives you comes in the form of more people contacting you with offers to help them on their projects for no money.

Paleontology is a small field. The likelihood that the prestige of being able to show that you did an illustration for a paper or a talk is only worth anything to the artist if, say, a popular press magazine like National Geographic or Discover or whatever deems that research captivating enough to the general public to publish that art (and even then it depends on the terms of the agreement whether the artist gets paid or not).

The attention that illustration will get is probably otherwise limited to fellow paleontologists that are also operating on an attenuated research budget.

It is not unreasonable to see the scenario in paleontology that you see in the publishing world.

“Hey I’m looking for an artist to do a project I have in mind. You know of anybody?”

Oh, yeah, Soanso is amazing and totally cool and does the stuff out of love. S/he did this for me and I had no budget. But S/he’s cool and gets it and would probably be willing to do your thing.”
There was nothing slimy about that. But that’s what often happens and that is what’s perpetuating a market where content providers aren’t getting paid.

Getting paid (again a heretofore uncontroversial notion) allows a content provider the means to keep providing that content in a reliable and professional manner.

(Sorry I just got this in and some of what i said merely echos Traumador)


Jack Pollock said...

Oh, and although I seemingly keep harping on direct payment I mean to include such deals as Traumador is talking about in the initial post and comments. Something where the artist isn't going from contest to contest whipping up new material and constantly wasting his/her time.

Jack Pollock said...

Oh, and although I seemingly keep harping on direct payment I mean to include such deals as Traumador is talking about in the initial post and comments. Something where the artist isn't going from contest to contest whipping up new material and constantly wasting his/her time.