An Alliance of Digital Artists (Art and Work in the Age of Instant Reproducibility)

If the Digital Artists Alliance never amounts to more than a temporary reference point, the basis for a gesture of respect by some site operators toward an ideal, then that will be enough for me, but I invite anyone interested in exploring larger possibilities to join me.

Is there already an organization or organizations set up to protect and advance the rights and interests of digital artists, and to inform and educate both them and their patrons, clients, employers, and “users” about those rights and interests as such?

I have not heard of such an organization, though I know that numerous artist guilds and groups worldwide have been actively engaged on the topic, and that “Digital Rights” issues have been at the forefront of major litigation and legislation. An initial net search did not turn up any organization of this particular type, and I was surprised to discover that “digitalartistsalliance” was available as a “top level domain name” in the main variants that occurred to me. The TLDs “digitalartsalliance.com” and “digitalartsalliance.org” (i.e., referring to “arts” rather than “artists”) are taken, but, as you may see if you click on the links, they do not appear to be actively in use as of this writing.

For now, digitalartistsalliance.org and digitalartistsalliance.com, which I purchased yesterday, link to a sub-page at this site, but, if the idea generates some positive response, I may move on to setting a free-standing site, as the home of a not-for-profit membership organization. At this point, however, I’m thinking we still need to define the idea. 

In narrow usages, the term “digital artist” refers, or once referred, to a handful of experimentalists or pioneers: individuals printing out pages of text or minutes of music or fields of color ordered and patterned by algorithm. In the present era, however, and in a way that has been visible or at least theorizable for many years, the term can be broadened to include hundreds of millions or maybe by now billions of us: Anyone capturing a cloud formation with a smartphone and distributing the picture on social media is some kind of creator, employing some aesthetic concept in the process, and, so, in that sense is a digital creative artist.

I have a more conventional if still expansive use in mind: By “digital artist” I am referring to anyone who produces work for digital media at a high enough standard to fashion a personal, professional, and economic identity around doing so. I am not seeking some sharp dividing line between authentic or serious artistry and amateur work. I include any photographer, graphic artist, web designer or developer, video-maker, musician, author, programmer, curator, or anyone else who produces work that in whole or significant part is or can be distributed on the internet or other digital media. I include, and cannot see how today one could practically exclude, what the original creators of WordPress seem to have had in mind with their slogan “Code is poetry.”

In short, for the purposes of an alliance of digital artists, a “digital artist” will be anyone who produces “digital artworks,” and “digital artworks” will be defined both by the application of broadly defined artistic skill to their creation and equally by their digital reproducibility. Such artworks could include anything from a photographic image to a mobile app, from an entire web site to an illustration or decoration or tiny icon appearing on one of its pages.

I can envision a day when a simple symbol immediately identifies a site or digital publisher of any type as someone committed to fair dealing with artists, from proper crediting to proper payment, extending to proper treatment of whatever work in question. This gamut of concerns typically falls under the heading of “creative rights” in contracts and agreements, so I have adopted that term in provisional Digital Artists Alliances insignia – currently the larger-format image featured above as well as in the following badge-link:

provisional_daa_badge

I imagine some site operators might at least enjoy or see some benefit in declaring themselves in this way, perhaps by placing the badge-link in or below a site footer or on an “about” page. At the moment, I’m trying out the link in a “sub-footer” or “signature” position at this site. I’m also showing it in a default “image removed” image appearing on old posts with never-credited or -licensed images from the bad old Wild West days when this blog was being handled “just like all the others.” The current version looks like this:

Image not actually removed!

Actually – in this case the image has not been removed!

Because creative rights must extend to the right and ability to negotiate meaningful contracts with publishers, respect for the creative rights of artists implies respect for the rights of those licensed to distribute creative work on agreed terms. I would consider making this logic more explicit in DAA materials, but await feedback if any, since there is some value in treating this consideration as implicit and unquestionable, while anyone showing the badge or replacement image will likely be in the position of a publisher offering an explanation or promise regarding the works of others.

On a personal note, as to what got me started on this work at this time, I have been working on a coding project designed to help site operators deal with one question relating to truly “fair” use of digital artwork, and I needed at minimum a placeholder for a project still being conceptualized. I expect at some point to have more to say about the CMYK double yinyang symbol I am using, and what it is intended to signify. In the meantime, if the Digital Artists Alliance never amounts to more than a temporary reference point, the basis for a gesture of respect by some site operators toward an ideal, during a long transitional phase in the maturation of the internet or the Web, then that will be enough for me, but I invite anyone interested in exploring the larger possibilities to join me.

A first step would be to drop me a line. You can use the following form…

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…Or feel free to use the comments to tell me and anyone else about the group I should already know about!


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4 comments on “An Alliance of Digital Artists (Art and Work in the Age of Instant Reproducibility)

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  1. Good start.

    The first issue popping into my head as I read this is “what art isn’t a digital art now?” Of course that doesn’t preclude the usefulness/importance of such a project. Despite the hegemony of digital media and the digitization of all other media there is a difference between my icon and the mask on my living room wall.

    Barring B&E, no one will misappropriate the mask on the wall. The icon, who knows?

    The folks at Cyborgology have written, mostly to poor effect, on what they call “digital dualism”, saying the distinction between the digital and the “real” is merely a means of making negative judgements.

    Exploring the overlap of the digital with, well what? analog, nondigital something else? is the New Aesthetic, both as a specific website and as, gosh, a new aesthetic.

    All of which I offer as semi-random thoughts at the beginning of something I think has potential and hope to see develop. Digitization creates a degree of access and reproducibility that is both exciting and problematic. The cyberneticization modifies past kinds of agency and creates new ones.

    I look forward to this project.

    • Thanks – though I’ll confess that my interest is as on this question more practical than theoretical, even if I’m the last to deny an interest in the latter.

      The copy of your Mask refers us back, I think, more to the Walter Benjamin question, less to the problem of works – like news photographs, cartoons, and so on – that lend themselves to instant re-production that, for most users, is practically “lossless” (even if from a technical standpoint the reproduction isn’t): The works never had much “aura” to begin with, since they were originally designed to be “mechanically re-produced.” Still, as professional quality work they have some aura or a different kind of aura. Purely literary work is also effectively losslessly reproducible. The specific problem I’ve been addressing has to do with the transition from the early to middle days of blogging – everyone stealing everything, re-printing whole articles from the virtual pages of the NYT, photos included, and calling it “aggregation” – to a present period when efforts to defend copyright appear to be increasing, and when some people, like me, have been thinking about the difficulties faced by would-be publishers and creators of high quality work. A model in which hardly anybody pays for anything doesn’t appear to be economically sustainable, or, if it is, is sustainable only for certain types of creators and publishers who may not be the types that we would most prefer to rise to be the winners (or only winners).

    • “New Media Rights” seems to be covering the whole waterfront, and it’s a very big waterfront, but still a good resource to note, I think.

      No name will be perfect, but I think “Digital Artists” covers or ought to be taken to cover graphic artists, photographers, and bloggers, who are my main interest for now, though I also suspect that on first glance some large number of those might still be going by some version of the old definition (i.e., writes computer programs that produce computer music that only a computer would find interesting).

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