It's not controversial to think that art — especially art that's hundreds of years old — belongs to us all as a cultural artifact. But in an instance of art intellectual property law gone terribly wrong, OCAD University in Toronto, Canada has created and required its students to purchase a $180 art textbook entirely devoid of pictures of any type.
The textbook in question is a required purchase for a course entitled "Global Visual and Material Culture, Prehistory to 1800." Any art that would appear in that book would be public domain — it's all over 212 years old at this point, after all. Still, since the book's publisher could not get clearance to use the pictures from Stokstad and Drucker Images, a decision was made to print the incredibly expensive art book without pictures of any kind. Students who purchase the book are instead given access to a web resource for viewing the art that should have appeared on the book's pages.
Predictably, the decision has sparked outrage amongst the school's students and their parents. Said one father, "If I am going to have to pay $180 for an art history book that is of no resale value to next year's students, it had damn well better be an excellent visual reference with hard cover and full color plates, to keep around for years, festooning my coffee table and that of my heirs."
The school, meanwhile, is defending its decision to print a book with plenty of blank, white squares where art should be. According to a letter given to students in the class, "The book is complete as printed and is not missing pictures because we didnÃ¢Â€Â™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."
We're all for artists getting paid for their work, but in this instance, it seems like intellectual property laws and a university caught asleep at the switch have forced a bizarre, unfortunate situation. You can take a look at a sample page from the book here. What would you do if you (or your child) was required to buy a $180 art book without any art in it?
More from Tecca: