The $15 Art from IKEA

Via PetaPixel, there’s a video showing people evaluating a piece of art that you can purchase at IKEA in the midst of an art museum. It’s funny and nicely done. At the end, when they reveal that people have been punked, and that they could buy it for only 10 euros, most everyone laughs at themselves. One pair just walk away in quiet disgust (or shame).

Implicit in this video is the trope that people don’t know art. Or don’t know what art is worth. Or will believe anything given the right context. I’d like to look at it from another angle.

First off, lets call the piece art. Just because prints of it are sold by IKEA for almost nothing doesn’t diminish the value of the art to individual observers. In fact, you can buy prints (or tshirts or mugs or anything else) of pretty much every famous piece of art for which there is no current copyright.

And so that becomes an important distinction: print versus original versus copyright. What IKEA is selling for 10 euros is a print. It is not selling the original, nor is it selling the copyright. So the fact that you could buy the print for 10 euros means ultimately that you have nothing of value to the art world after you complete the transaction. You have a print, just like millions of others. Congratulations.

On the other hand, the original is still owned by someone else. Now we could argue about the value of that original now that every IKEA shopper with a keen eye for art has one. Perhaps it is more valuable now that homes across Europe and America have a copy. Perhaps it is less. I don’t know. But I’ll hazard a guess that the original cannot be purchased for 10 euros.

In the video, people attempt to hazard a guess at the value of the art. Remember, they are standing in a museum (not the gift shop), and so they are implicitly assuming that they are estimating the value of the original. Not the print. And by the way, these are museum visitors, not curators. Not experts. So they guess some wildly varying numbers, all way more than 10 euros, as they should be. The fact that people chortle at this video shows they didn’t understand the important distinction between print and original.

Does IKEA own the original? I have no idea. But IKEA owns a license to reproduce it from the copyright holder. That license has commercial value, and I’m sure IKEA paid the copyright holder more than 10 euros for it. Could you buy that license from IKEA? Depends on the terms of the contract and license to reproduce. But I’ll hazard a guess that you couldn’t buy that license for 10 euros.

So here are all the pieces: person A owns the original, and it is worth way more that 10 euros; person B (maybe the same as A, maybe not) owns the copyright, and sold a license to IKEA to reproduce it in a commercial setting; IKEA reproduces it and sells it for 10 euros; many people purchase a print for 10 euros and hang it in their homes.

So are we to guffaw at museum visitors who guess that the (ahem, original) might be worth millions of euros? Just because you could buy it in an IKEA (or the museum gift shop) for 10 euros doesn’t make them wrong. It could be worth that much. If I were the owner of the original, I’d be trying to find the guy who was willing to buy it for 2.5M euros.

As for the woman who comments that you couldn’t buy that art in a cheap store, I’ll assume she was referring to the print, and that its complexity and multiple layers could not appeal to a mass audience, therefore no cheap store could possibly sell enough of them. This reveals her ignorance of other humans, not her ignorance of art.  She has underestimated the demand for art like this, and IKEA’s ability to leverage that demand to sell prints at a price that anyone could afford.

What about the guys who walk away quietly at the end of the video? Well, perhaps we don’t know their real reaction because it has been edited out. Perhaps they realized that the premise of the video was to make fun of people, and that they’d just been made fun of. Perhaps they wanted to justify their assessment of the price with a “I thought you were talking about an original. Of course a print could be bought for 10 euros”. But rather than add fodder to the video, they just walked away. I can’t say as I blame them.

Too Many photographers

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Now that we’re on the down-side of the DSLR era, I’ve gotten used to being the only person at a non-photography event that could be considered a photographer. Holding a DSLR is almost old-school at this point, what with the growth of the mirror-less and high-end compact classes. So I was a bit surprised when I showed up at an Adam Ezra performance tonight, and I was one of four photographers:

  • There was the band fan, in his tie-dyed shirt, and long gray hair and beard. He was sporting a low-end Nikon with a kit lens. The camera didn’t sit comfortably in his hands–it looked like he was afraid to break it, by twisting the zoom in the wrong way.
  • There was the significant-other of someone in the band. She had a lens whose sole purpose in life is to proclaim that more zoom is more better. And she had an external on-camera flash. She was attempting to compose pictures with the fans in them, but I’m guessing, because of the flash, that the fans were playing hell with her exposure.
  • There was a self-important photographer, who came rushing in mid-way through the first set, dumped his sling-bag on a table, and immediately pulled out two mirrorless cameras. He worked the stage in a way that would have embarrassed a teen girl at a Bon Jovi concert. He also took video, with his tiny external mic sitting in the camera hot-shoe.
  • Then there was the stand-offish photog, scowling, though perhaps not intentionally, at the other photographers. He had this off-camera flash mounted to a pole in in the center of the room, that would nuke the whole space whenever it went off. He tried to keep his distance if another photog was at the stage, but sometimes just couldn’t help it, prostrating himself to get that “he’s on a big stage” angle.

I’m not sure what it is–I feel like I have the evil combination of being non-competitive, and being hyper-meta-aware that I’m doing something ancillary to the point of the performance. So when there’s another photographer present, I can’t cry. (sorry, Fight Club reference).

But that is kinda it, too. As a photographer, I’m not there to enjoy or take part in the performance–of course I do, but that’s only when I let the musical part of my brain do some of enjoying. I’m there to observe, and evaluate, and assess. And I’m there to hunt for moments, and interactions, and expressions. None of those are reasons why people are on stage. The folks on stage have a performance to perform, songs to sing, messages to …um… message. So I try, maybe to a fault, to stay out of the way, or to intrude only briefly. If I go up front to make a few pics, after 5-10 seconds, I’ll beat a hasty retreat to the back, almost sulking for having interrupted others’ enjoyment.

So if another photographer is present, I become hyper-aware of that person. I try to not get in their way, but more importantly, I try to not add to the distraction they present. Plus, I don’t want to try to outdo them in some unspoken, douchebag kind of way. These feelings were so strong in me tonight, that I very nearly left the moment the fourth photographer arrived.

But I stayed, and stayed back, for the most part. Some moments were just to delicious to pass up. Plus, on occasion, I would fire my off-camera flash in hopes of screwing up someone else’s picture.

Prayers and a Good God

[If you don’t already know, I’m an atheist. If you’re going to be offended by a frank discussion of religiosity, please stop reading now.]

Prayers

{Originally written in 2013, but never posted}

A friend of mine frequently posts various prayer requests to Facebook . I don’t typically respond, though if it were something serious, I would probably offer some sort of secular condolence or assistance. Her most recent prayer request was especially striking to me and got me thinking again about the point of prayer for action on the external world. To be clear, this post is not about inward prayers or meditations, where someone asks for strength or guidance or understanding. This post is about praying that something happen in the physical world.

I’m not going to quote her directly, but I’ll give you as accurate a paraphrase as I can. She asked others to pray that her son’s lost backpack be returned to them. He had evidently lost it on a city bus, and it was full of homework. She and her son had attempted to find the backpack on their own, but that had proved futile at the point she posted the prayer request.

I wondered why would someone pray for such an event? To be clear, she didn’t say “pray to God” but I think it is typically understood that’s who a Christian (which she openly is) would be praying to. So I’ll assume it was something like “Hey friends. Would you all please pray to God with me for the return of my son’s backpack?”

So this gets me to wondering–does she believe that God is all-knowing? If yes, then God knew what was going to happen before the backpack became lost, and even knows the consequences of such a loss, far into the future. If not, then God probably doesn’t know any better where the backpack is.

Does she believe that God is all powerful? If yes, then God could have steered events differently such that the backpack wasn’t lost in the first place. If God isn’t all powerful, then its probably futile to ask him to do anything.

And if God knew this was going to happen, and chose to let it happen, why would prayer from any number of people change his mind? And if it did change his mind, he knew it would all happen, then he’s just playing with everyone.”Hahahaha! I just took your backpack. You’ll get it back when just the right number of people pray to me!!!”

let me try to illustrate with a table:

All Knowing Not All Knowing
All Powerful Toying malevolent
Not All Powerful Impotent Human
  •  All Powerful & All Knowing: he’s messing with you.
  • All Powerful & Not All Knowing: he’s doing bad stuff but doesn’t know the outcome? That’s just mean.
  • Not All Powerful & All Knowing: he’s knows it all but can’t doing anything, so he’s impotent.
  • Neither: yeah, that’s us humans.

In none of these situations does prayer seem like a logical choice. So why?

More recently, a lot of people have been “praying” or posting prayer requests for storm victims in Moore, OK and Oklahoma City, OK. One friend in particular, as the tornadoes were bearing down on Oklahoma City, posted:

People in OK need our prayers….Lord in your mercy….

Is it safe to assume that this person, and many more, actually prayed that people in OK not be hurt or killed by the storms? Would that prayer go something like this?

Dear Lord God, please keep the people of Oklahoma City safe as these storms bear down on the city. Please don’t let them die.

Yes, I’ve just made this up, but, really, what else would a prayer in such a situation be intended to do?

Knowing that I’m an atheist you see this coming, right? What would you think of a human being who had the power to prevent deaths but didn’t? If it was within your power to throw a line to someone drowning in a lake, but you didn’t, what are you? If it was within your power to throw them a line, but you didn’t know they were drowning? If you knew they were drowning, and you threw the line, but couldn’t quite reach them? What does this say about God? What does it say about god that despite innumerable prayers, 20 people have died from the tornadoes and flooding? Here’s my table again;

 

Knew of impending deaths Didn’t know of impending deaths
Could prevent deaths, but didn’t Evil Blind
Could not prevent deaths Impotent Less effective than Humans

If this were the first time that prayers failed to prevent deaths from natural disaster, we might be asking “Hrm, what went wrong with our prayer-line of communication with the almighty one?” But its not. People die from storms and volcanoes and earthquakes every year. Prayer never helps.

God is Good

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God is good, all the time. About an hour ago, I was sideswiped by a lady on
315. My car is all bashed up, but I am ok.

The above was posted by an acquaintance March, 2015. My acquaintance was neither Eric Slone, nor Jaroslav Boukhtin. Nor was my friend one of the 130 people killed in car accidents so far this year in Ohio. My friend was one of the fortunate ones, and for that I am happy. Truly, I am. I don’t want anyone to die in a car accident, regardless of their thoughts about god.

So, just in case my point isn’t yet clear, I’ll illuminate it a little further. My friend/acquaintance, Missy,  (not her real name) was in a car accident. I know from later posts that it did enough damage to her car that it is now being repaired, and she has a rental–so this was not a minor scratch. It was a pretty serious accident. And Missy was pretty shaken up. She seems to attribute the fact that she was only shaken up and not killed to the goodness of God.

So, lets take at face value, for a moment, that God Is Good, and had some direct influence over the accident. For if God didn’t have influence, then there would be no reason to proclaim his/her/its goodness in the same post as the one describing the accident. Allow me to break down the potential severity of car accidents into some really broad categories:

  1. No accident at all. The cars never touch, or even come close to each other.
  2. Near miss. The cars never touch, but perhaps there is a harrowing moment as they come close. No actual harm is done.
  3. Minor accident. The cars touch, ever so slightly. Perhaps a few scratches exist to prove it happened, or maybe a broken mirror.
  4. Significant accident, no harm. The cars collide, doing more-than-trivial damage to their exteriors, but the passengers are all unharmed physically.
  5. Significant accident, with injuries. The cars collide, are dramatically damaged, and some number of drivers or passengers require medical assistance.
  6. Deaths. Some number of the people involved in the accident die as a result of the accident.

These kinds of accidents happen with a fair bit of regularity in our society. Just in Ohio, there is an average of two to three deaths per day due to car accidents (2014).

Missy had an accident in the 3 or 4 range. She’s happy, and praises God, that it wasn’t worse. God, according to Missy, is Good, and prevented the crash from being a 5 or 6.

But how good is God, really, if he/she/they could keep a specific crash from being worse than it was, but couldn’t prevent it in the first place? How many people get home at the end of their commute and praise God for the fact that nothing happened at all?

And how good is God, really, if he/she/they could keep Missy safe, but not the other 130 people who have died in crashes so far this year, just in Ohio?

The goodness of God can get muddled in our language, since many who are religious tend to equate the words “good” and “God”. God is, in many religious traditions, defined as perfectly good. Some would even argue that atrocities committed by God are good things just because God did it. Anyway, I don’t know if Missy believes this, so I’ll move on to my human example…

You’ve got a friend, whom you would consider a good person, right? Let’s call him Elliot, just to give him a name. Elliot takes care of his kids by helping with their homework, taking them to sports activities, giving them shelter and food, and a supportive loving home. You would say that Elliot is a good dad. In addition to his fatherhood, he’s also a great person to work with. He is smart, reliable, pleasant, thorough, etc. He’s a good employee/manager/worker. Elliot also volunteers in the community–perhaps through a Scouting organization, or at an animal shelter. Elliot even visited you in the hospital a few years ago. Put enough of these together, and you would call Elliot a good person, and rightly so.

While chatting with Elliot over coffee (which he bought for you, he’s so nice!) he tells you about hitting a dog on the road. It was a terrible experience, and he’s really broken up over it. He stopped to see if he could help, but the dog was dead. It was a country road, with no houses nearby, so he just left the dog there. It was a terrible thing, and Elliot felt really badly about it. Does this affect your evaluation of Elliot as a good person? No, of course not. It was an accident. Elliot had no control over the situation.

The next week you’re having coffee with Elliot (the muffins he baked are fantastic!) and he tells you about the cat and the racoon that met their demise under the wheels of his vehicle. He’s still very upset about it, and is wondering why he’s having this string of bad luck. But, accidents do happen, and you still think of Elliot as a good person, though maybe he needs to slow down a bit.

A couple of weeks later, you join Elliot for a couple of drinks after work. He doesn’t tell you any more stories of animals dying beneath his wheels, and you’re a little bit afraid to ask. Alas, the rest of the conversation goes well, and you really enjoyed you time with Elliot. You say your goodbyes in the entry-way of the restaurant, and he heads out to his car. You stay inside to hit the bathroom before heading home. After washing your hands (you’re a good person too, natch) you make your way to your car.

In the dark parking lot you’re aware of a car coming up behind you. As you try to move to the side to let it by, you hear the engine rev and tires squeal. Your heart skips about 2 beats as you lunge out of the way, desperate to not get hit by the maniac coming right at you. The reckless asshole somehow misses you, but manages to remove the bumper from your car. The driver stops, and starts to get out, and you’re not sure whether to run at him or from him. Are you angry or afraid? Beat some sense into him or run away in case he’s still got murderous intentions?

And Elliot stands there smiling. “Nice moves! You really handled that well. Sorry about your car, but notice that you’re not hurt. I would never have hit you. I had it all under control.”

So how good is Elliot now? He’s a psychopath, right? Elliot had within his control any of these possibilities: drive home without any altercation, pull up next to you carefully and say goodbye again, or even playfully rev his engine but keep a safe distance. But he did none of those these. He chose to scare the shit out of you, AND damage your car. If Elliot were a human, you probably wouldn’t speak to him ever again, after filing the police report and insurance claim.

So when God does exactly the same things, why is he/she/it considered good?

Unseen Aruba

My wife and I took a trip to Aruba this winter as a kind of second honeymoon. We stayed in Savaneta, a small town about 15 minutes south of the airport. We also have a penchant to exploring whatever we want, rather than what the tour companies tell us we should see. We did many of the touristy things, but we also got off the beaten path.

Most people talk about the perfect azure-blue sea, or the stunning white-sand beaches, or the resort hotels, or the city-sized cruise ships dominating the harbor. I had read in guide books that unemployment was crazy-low (like at 1%) thanks to the constant influx of tourists. One aspect of Aruba that struck me as never talked about is their abandoned buildings. At nearly every turn, when you’re off the tourist-friendly main drag, there are abandoned buildings. In Ohio, U S of A, abandoned buildings are a bit of a rare delicacy. Sure they exist, but they’re not that easy to find. Even more stunning, is that abandoned buildings here are secured so that you have to be very determined to get inside. As you’ll see, some in Aruba are boarded up. They were all in the capital, Oranjestad. Everywhere else, the buildings were just sitting there, open, inviting a grungy portrait shoot.

So I took maybe an hour, grand-total, capturing these images. I want to make that clear–I did not go hunting for these buildings, except for one 30-minute excursion around Savaneta. Most of these we came across as we were exploring the island.

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