Thursday, September 10, 2009


Giving due credit

I just put a selection of photos from the Grounds for Sculpture up on Picasa.[1] As I was doing the captions for the photos, which identify the sculptures in each photo and their artists, I also looked around at other people’s photos from the park. And I noticed something:

Most people don’t care about identifying works of art and giving credit to the artists.

Most of the photos I found were entirely unidentified — no title or caption at all. Most of the others just said things like, “sculpture”, and “another sculpture”. A few put obvious descriptive phrases on them, or whimsical names the photographer made up. Philip Grausman’s “Leucantha” would be called “Woman’s Head”. J. Seward Johnson’s “First Ride” was “Bike Sculpture”, and his “On Poppied Hill” got labelled “The lady on the hill.” Johnson’s “King Lear” was called “Jesus” in one photo, and someone called Bruce Beasley’s “Dorion” a “Space Age Bug”.

Occasionally, when someone did label the photo with a proper title, it was misidentified — one photo had Alexander Liberman’s “Entwined III” labelled as the nearby “Shiva” (by Larry Steele) — but that’s understandable, because the map you get is too small, and when you’re going through it afterward it’s often hard to exactly peg each piece. At least that person tried.

Yes, it’s some bit of trouble to do the labelling, and to get it right.[2] But it’s important. The artists deserve the credit for the work they did, and if you like it enough to put it on the Internet, the artist should get the props for it. Also, when people see your photos and like what they see, a proper caption helps them find other works by the same artist.

On a related note, the morning DJs on a local radio station occasionally have call-in contests, wherein the first caller to answer a question wins tickets to some event. One morning, some years ago, the quiz was to identify a song lyric. The caller correctly named the song as “Reason to Believe”, and the DJ added, “Yes, by Rod Stewart.” I sent email.

If you play a clip of Rod Stewart singing the song, saying it’s Rod Stewart is quite proper. If you quote the lyrics, though, Rod had nothing to do with it: the songwriter was the late Tim Hardin, who also wrote the well known songs “Don’t Make Promises” and “If I Were a Carpenter”. Hardin lived a hard enough life, and a short one, and, to honour his memory, he deserves the credit for what he wrote. Too often, we mis-attribute the words to the singer, especially these days when so many songwriters do sing their own songs.

Let’s try to give due credit.

[1] Here’s the GfS offical site, and my earlier blog post in these pages.

[2] And, yes, I posted one photo that’s not identified, because I couldn’t identify it. I will do on my next visit, which will be soon, and I’ll update the Picasa album then. There’s a second one that I don’t think I ever will identify: it was part of a temporary exhibit. I’m going to see if the park has a list of the temporary exhibits in the past, and can identify the piece for me. Of course, if any readers can name either one, please leave comments here.


Thomas J. Brown said...

This is one of those areas in which the Internet has the potential to yield great power, but often falls short due to human laziness.

As you pointed out, correctly labeling a work of art (or anything, really) can help other people find what they're looking for, find related works, etc. The trouble is that the burden of accuracy is left to the uncaring masses.

That's not to say I'm exempt from mislabeling or not labeling my own photos online, but as intellectual property rights has become a larger issue lately, I have certainly paid more attention to trying to give credit to content creators.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Which is similar to something that annoys me: attributing movie quotes to the actor instead of the character.