Saturday, September 22, 2012

Art History - a set text book with no pictures!

The Ontario College of Art and Design's set text for a course called Global Visual and Material Culture: Prehistory to 1800 is an art book costing $180 with no images of art in it.

I kid you not.

A sample copy of the text - complete with blank boxes which refer
reproduced here for the purpose of review and criticism

As you can see the book contains blank squares which should have images.  Apparently the tutors commissioned the book (now who'd already guessed this would be a home-grown innovation?) but the piblishers failed to clear the copyright for the images in time for publication.

This is the letter from OCAD to the students
Global Visual & Material Culture: Beginnings to 1800 is a custom textbook that basically combines threetextbooks into one:
1. Art History, 4th ed. by Stokstad and Cothren – excerpts from the full 1150-page text.Volume One would retail for $144.
2. Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide, 2nd ed. by Drucker/McVarish – excerpts.This volume would retail for $92.
3. A custom reader with all the additional material we have added (which includes printed images)and would cost approximately $65 – $75 (see page iii of text for list of items).
You have also been given access to electronic versions of the full Stokstad/Cothren and Drucker/McVarish texts with all the images.
The book is complete as printed and is not missing pictures because we didn’t get copyright clearance in time. If we had opted for print clearance of all the Stokstad and Drucker images, the text would have cost over $800.

The notion is that the students should spend $180 for an art book with no images and then find them online.  Furthermore this textbook is an amalgam of text from three books which have already been published - so is yet another publishing wheeze to extract the last cent from every book ever published?

So let's examine the issues from different perspectives

The student perspective

  • they are required to buy a new book (ie no second hand copies available) for $180 - which is very poor value for money in anybody's book!
  • the book is an amalgamation of three existing books - all of which will be available second-hand
  • they have to buy a book they can't resell because it has no images
Conclusion:  Nobody spent any time considering the price of the publication from the perspective of the student

The copyright perspective
  • the school's argument is that the book would have cost $800 if they'd managed to get the copyright licence to print the pictures
  • there are no works of art which were created prior to 1800 which are still in copyright
  • the only relevant copyright relates to that of the photographer
  • There is no need to clear copyright if the student accesses images available online
Conclusion:  We have an Art School and a publisher which have come up with a solution which pays absolutely no regard to a student's time financial or time budgets or the accessibility of images online for free.

The sustainable perspective
  • how many trees got cut down and how much money has it cost to print large black spaces with a line round and a reference to another book where the image can be found?
  • why aren't existing text books being recommended?  
    • What is the added value of this particular text and these particular images over other textbooks or other available online resources which are available for a great deal less money?  
    • Why is this book so much better than the book that was used last year for precisely the same course?
  • why is a text book being recommended at all - as opposed to an ebook or an online version of teacher's notes which reference readily available images online.
Conclusion:  OCAD needs to review its policy on sustainability with particular reference to commissioned textbooks

Another perspective

Very many museums and other organisations now make images available online.  I personally find that very many of these are superior to images printed in a book.  

Here, for example, are the COMPLETELY FREE links to the two images highlighted in the above page:
If OCAD and the publishers had got together to produce an art ebook which had html links embedded into the title of each referenced artwork, then the students could view the works more easily online.

This would also provide scope to considerably reduce the cost of the book given that the text, as I understand, it comes from books which have already been published.

and finally......

The links below are to references to this farce and the comments are particularly interesting. 
All I can say is that there would appear to be a compelling argument for determining course design and content with particular reference to the affordability and effectivness of course materials.

[UPDATE:  This incident is now making the television news - see CTV - Art book without pictures raises perennial issue of pricey textbooks ]