Day 30 of 31 Days of Art:
Is Your Art Hackable?

Hackable.  The term "hackable" shows up in so many places now.  It used to mean that computer geeks could break into sites by "hacking the code."  But now the word has come to mean something is "copy-able."  It means you can make a reasonable imitation of it. You hear the word "hackable" a lot in the do it yourself interior design community.  

In fact, there is a whole show based on hacking designs. It's an HGTV show called the "The High/Low Project".   The premise of the show is designer Sabrina Soto designs a  high-end room for clients, and then reinvents the design with low cost alternatives.  I like that she is hacking her own design. This particular room in the high end version was $29,000.  Sabrina recreated the look for $4,000.   It was very cool how she expressed her room design in an upper end and lower budget way.  I like befores and afters, and I've seen her on another show where she stages homes to get ready to sell. She's a very good designer. The art of creating a room is amazing to me - that someone can create a 3D art environment to live in is a gift. Interior designers use art and color pops the way a painter might use a single brushstroke of red in an otherwise neutral painting. 

I was enjoying the show.  But then  Sabrina took an artist's piece off the wall and "hacked" the art in a low cost way using paper.   It's interesting that I was fine with it as long as she was using a funky thrift couch to express the vibe of the designer sofa.  Or even when they copied the kidney shaped ottoman exactly.  But when it was someone's one of a kind ART it bothered me.  Hmmmmm.  She was not copying the art - more like creating something in the spirit of the high end art using the same colorways.  But  still, this brings up all kinds of thoughts for me in all kinds of directions.
How would you feel if it had been your art hanging in the high end room that got taken off the wall and hacked?
Is your art hackable?
If I am making art that is simple for someone else to mimic is it my own darn fault if I get copied?
Is an ottoman art? They copied the high end ottoman exactly.  The high end ottoman itself was a copy of a mid-century modern design.   Why wasn't I bothered when the ottoman was copied?
Has the DIY community undermined the place of art in our world or given it more of a place by inspiring people to make their own art?
Just because something is copyable, does that mean it's okay to copy it?
One of my focuses, studying antique folk art dolls, has been about re-creating a doll inspired by Izannah Walker's work.  In a sense, I and many other people are "hacking" historical objects.  Or continuing a tradition.  Depending on your viewpoint. 

I hacked this graphic (copied it) from an antique book.  
Then I changed the color to sepia.


Your thoughts?


jenclair said...

Hmmm. This came up just yesterday. I came out of a gift shop and jotted down some ideas. My husband said, "Interesting that you won't plagiarize words, but will copy someone's work."

I replied that items manufactured by the thousands were open to imitation. Maybe not in the same materials and style, but the basic idea. And, I added, I don't copy anyone's work directly, but getting ideas is fair game. And, I continued to justify, making something for yourself is not the same as selling it.

It is interesting that it works both ways. Anthropologie and Pottery Barn pick up ideas from crafters, then crafters produce knock-offs of the A & PB products.

We had quite a discussion about it, and somehow it came down to a very personal view. What I might not feel comfortable doing, someone else might feel completely comfortable doing. The reverse is also true. I'll be giving the subject more thought.

To make this even longer, I once signed up for a class on Izannah dolls from you. I downloaded some patterns that I've never used, but due to unforeseen circumstances, never participated in the online class, never even visited. Can't tell you how much I regret it because I've seen some of the work of your students (marvelous stuff). In a studio clean up the other day, I found the patterns!

Dixie Redmond said...

Jen - I'm glad you found your patterns. You can still continue with the Izannah online workshop for $15 subscription per year. Email me if you're interested.

I really like that you've shared here. Yes, it's interesting. One of the reasons I've studied Izannah dolls is because I want one. :-)

It's an interesting circle, too, with the Antropologie and Pottery Barn picking up on crafters and artists and then producing items in a factory like way (probably in China) and then being mimicked by people who want to knock-off the look.

Aimee Jeffries said...

Ohhh I love that show! I don't think there is anything wrong with seeing something you could never afford and replicating in for much less to decorate your own home, or even to give as a gift for the Holidays etc. I think the line is crossed when you offer these things for sale to the public. Luckily copyright doesn't apply to most vintage and antique dolls, clip art, etc. I see it as a way of keeping the memory of the maker and the era alive.

Kim at Thistle Dew said...

Hi Dixie!

When you put it that way, I'm an 18th & 19th century fraktur hacker! :-D I'll often pour through books of fraktur, looking for elements of design to use in new papercuttings or watercolors. And occasionally, I'll do accurate period reproductions. Hmmmmm....

One thought on this is there's nothing new under the sun... even the artists of the Renaissance copied the Greeks and Romans. Yet, they took the earlier ideas and changed them up or improved upon them, making them their own. Sort of a "copying the masters" approach? Another thought is that many of these crafts, and even fine arts, were meant to be passed down by the careful instruction of apprentices. But, for some reason, whether it was the industrial revolution or simply lack of interest, the passing down was not done, and the craft or art or skill was essentially lost.

Something that does bother me is copying a piece of art exactly and passing it off as a fake or as your own work. It would be wrong to paint a Picasso and attempt to sell it as the real thing... and it would also be wrong to exactly copy a living artist's design and say it is my own. Maybe it's how we present what we do?

Definitely some food for thought there!

(Who can't wait to finish this 31 Day thing and spend the next month checking out what everyone else did!)

Onegirlruns said...

hi there,

i'm new to your blog. it really inspired me to become more creative. i'm so dull! haha. for example, i can't sew, but i'm really hoping to learn. in the meantime, i plan to experiment with no sew iron on tape. see what kind of projects i can rustle up. check out my blog if you like. it's not very interesting, i'm fairly new to blogging. it's about decorating my home and renovating.

Dixie Redmond said...

Yes, we Aimee and Kim, we can be history hackers (or in Kim's case a fraktur hacker).

House No. 2 - I'm happy if my blog has inspired you to be more creative. That's brings me joy.

Christopher Hillman said...

Thank you SO much for this series Dixie!

I think there are good and bad ways art is "hacked". The good ways is the work you do to revive art that would otherwise become forgotten. It is "copying" in a way that creates and adds to the world. That is very good. The alternative is that the original work becomes forgotten.

The bad way art is "hacked" is kinda obvious as it is in a way that limits and removes art from the world. If the painting from the show was to be misrepresented and sold as the work of a fancy artist then that is obviously bad.

But there is a limit of what copying and hacking truly consists of. I think there are looser limits on Art than things like music or the written word. A single artist cannot lay claim to landscape painting, nor can they claim to be the only one who can paint a wall of soup cans. A lot of art is re-interpreting ("copying" or "hacking"). If an artist had to be 100% original then even flicking paint at a canvas is already taken.

Art theft is a big problem at the same time. The creators of South Park (yeah, I know but I have a point to make) made the first show to be passed around but didn't include credits. As the tape gained in popularity, many people claimed to have made it so even the actual creators appeared to be liars when they came forward. It was their fault for the way they released South Park, but who is to say it would have become as popular if they had released it in a controlled way with carefully documented credits and copy protection mechanisms in place. While the day after their work was "stolen" might have been a bad day, I'd say they have had more good days since.

A lot of art is popular because it is hackable. To make art less hackable limits the potential popularity. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then having your work copied is a compliment... in the same way that getting mugged is a compliment as you must look like you have a lot of money. But while your creation might take on a life of its own, it is not like we are given one good idea and that is it. The ability to make highly hackable art is... an art. Look at the "Caturday" stuff. It is a highly hackable artform that is made by totally anonymous people and put up on the internet to then pollute Facebook for all eternity. ((but what I would give to make one funny cat picture!))

There is a careful balance. An artist must take care who and how they copy, and how they seek credit for their work. So keep copying! And if you are good enough, one day you will be copied!

Dixie Redmond said...

Chris - thanks for taking the time to write here.

In the art doll world, just having arms and legs and faces brings people's work closer together in terms of similarity. Oh look, you made a doll with eyelids. I invented that! ;-)

A good guide to go by is if it looks recognizable as someone else's work then you need to address that (unless you intent is to copy an antique, then good on you!).

One caveat - when you've worked hard at developing something it doesn't feel very good if someone takes the credit (and the income) by imitating. This is a good example:

Scroll down a bit to the "copying" post.


Dixie Redmond said...

But I also get what you're saying - when you make something that is accessible, then that IS part of the art. And that feature lends itself to copying. Take Cubism. It's hackable. My youngest made a wonderful portrait in the style of Cubism which I liked better than Picasso's paintings.

Robin Pedrero said...

Picasso was the ultimate hacker and admitted that artists must steal...

"Do not let what you cannot do
keep you from doing what you can do."

John Wooden