Dogs That Bark and Naked Women (2015Jul12)


Sunday, July 12, 2015                                              6:17 PM

I’m feeling something of an ethical pinch—my videos from the last two days were slideshows of the artworks of Gustav Klimt and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. There is some cognitive dissonance in the great masterworks’ place in culture—not so long ago, museums were considered public services because they allowed the public to partake of the rich tapestry of the graphic arts, sculpture, etc. Public TV runs shows that educate us about the great artists—their lives, their techniques, their place in history, the society they lived in, their influence on future artists—you know the drill.

But the online images of these great works carry a copyright—usually the museums’, but sometimes the images are the property of printers and poster-makers—regardless, the upshot is that they’ve found a way to make a profit off the old masters and by doing so have made these images property. Museums have found that gift shops, on-site or online, can help fund the place—the Met in NYC has a catalog that includes copies of historic jewelry, prints, posters, calenders, t-shirts—I don’t know—you name it. And that’s great—I’m happy for them—NPO’s gotta do what an NPO’s gotta do—right?

I get all my images off of Wiki-Commons or my Rijksmuseum’s ‘users-welcome’ studio—some of the files in my image library are downloads from the early, open-source-minded days of the dial-up web. I don’t consider any of these images my property, but I do feel that anything available, if it is part of what any reasonable person would consider pre-digital cultural history, can be used in the same spirit of education and public service which museums are based on.

I’m sensitive to this issue partly because my infrequent uploads of classical piano music to my YouTube channel are often flagged as copyrighted material. This happens because the security software is poorly designed and matches the song title with any other claims on the song title. That’s fine for rock-n-roll, but classical music is virtually all public domain and over a century old. Some of the more modern composers, like Gershwin, still have a claim on their works (or I should say their heirs do) but only for a few more decades. From Palestrina to Rachmaninoff, the rest belongs to all of us.

Now if there were a standards complaint, I couldn’t argue—my recordings are execrable compared to a polished musician’s. But I can’t help being a little bitchy about someone telling me that my Bach recording is infringing on someone else’s copyright—that’s just nonsense. And that online protocol for appealing the robot’s judgment is intimidating. I understand that they are trying to minimize the need for a human being to ever be involved in the process and I understand how important such a thing is for online processes. But threatening to erase someone’s account for making a false complaint is a tad harsh—even for an online robot company.

Anyway, back to the graphic-image files issue—the core of the issue is capitalism. If I was set up to make money off of my music (I wish) then I would be much more circumspect in my use of non-original stuff. Between my drawings, my photographs, and my outdoor videos, I usually manage to spice up my piano videos with nothing but purely original content. But that’s a bit confining for someone like me, who isn’t making any revenue off of this hobby of mine. Sometimes I like to throw in a little culture. So I’ll play classical music—or even pop song covers. I’ll make a video slideshow of Van Gogh paintings or Dore illustration engravings to give my viewers a break from my ugly mug sitting at the piano.

As someone pointed out to me at a recent garden party, being sued by anyone would be the best thing that could happen to me—the publicity would be priceless. I take that with a grain of salt, however—he’d be correct if we were discussing a talented artist who only needed discovering. But I need lessons, not discovering, so I still worry about copyright entanglements—the world looks for ways to get you, there’s no sense handing them ammunition.

But never mind all that. I’m very excited this summer—I don’t know if my expectations have slumped down to where they touch reality or whether I’m actually starting to be satisfied with some of my own work, but I just feel good about these two videos from yesterday and today.

I’ll tell you the secret—I’m working on recording Brahm’s Opus 117. I practice those three pieces for an hour or so, and afterwards I improv better than I ever have before—go figure. The first one was played on my electric, so I had no video. I decided to do an Ingres slideshow—but the piece is only two minutes and change, so I had to pick which artworks to include.

When I was a young artist-in-training I had some awkwardness dealing with nudity. The naked human form is a beautiful thing—no one can argue that. But to me, a naked girl will always be a naked girl—artistic detachment is not in my toolbox. But, like I say, nudes are breathtakingly beautiful, so here they are. If it makes you feel guilty, tell yourself it’s ‘great art’.

The second video, from today, is my proudest moment, a personal best of musicianship, to date. A little dog from next door decided to add a coda, which saved me the trouble of thinking up a title.

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