In deference to true heraldic artists

I recently stumbled upon A Message from Andrew Stewart Jamieson in which he contrasts true “heraldic artists” with “fraudsters, amateurs, and con artists who, calling themselves heraldic artists, offer substandard, commercial services to unsuspecting clients and patrons”. On the same site was a post titled Heraldic Art and Copyright Infringement, both of which are written on the premise of the existence of amateur hacks attempting to exploit the desire for heraldic designs.

Mr. Jamieson is the Scribe and Illuminator of HM Queen Elizabeth II, and has a well-documented career in heraldic arts. Given his reputation, I give much credence to what he has said in the aforementioned article. In it he stated he “began to notice a pattern emerging and to me it was a danger signal which warned of the very demise of the art form I love.” This was related to individuals on web forums offering services as heraldic artists, but without a background and portfolio of works commensurate with the services they were looking to charge others for. In Mr. Jamieson’s words:

Many of these amateurs have little or no idea of the craft of heraldic art or of its long tradition and development from the techniques of medieval manuscript illumination. They have no sense of design and, most importantly, they cannot draw. 

This statement, to me, sums up much of modern art, but I suppose in that realm I am just not cultured enough to appreciate it. Many an artist has splashed paint against a canvas and sold for profit what would earn my children a severe scolding, were I to find it on my own wall. Alas, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Mr. Jamieson’s heraldic works, though, truly are objets d’art.

In the past, an artist would master his craft by mimicking the works of those whom he admired, and spend many years working toward his own style, but as was stated in the articles referenced, modern technology has short circuited the process. One now only has to obtain a digital copy of an image to begin manipulating it to his own designs. With a little practice, one could become proficient in taking a cookie cutter approach to emblazonment, and output decent quality (digital) work. It is my uneducated opinion that a vast majority of heraldic consumers would never know the difference. With the anonymity afforded by the Internet, one could easily build a pseudo-reputation as an heraldic artist. And as stated by Mr. Jamieson:

These fraudsters are often retired or are employed and have careers and receive a regular wage; to them heraldry is just a sideline. I have seen young professionals for whom heraldry is their only career, fall by the wayside no longer able to support their families. This is morally wrong and it is delivering a death blow to this field.

The problem here seems to be whether a patron is willing to pay for true art put down on canvas by a steady hand in quality inks, or is the patron satisfied with a digital work? As an anachronist, I do not even consider the two to be on the same level. The physical artist makes an heirloom to be passed down for generations, the digital artist creates a work that lasts so long as it is electronically available[1]. One cannot be duplicated without retaining the hand of the master, the other can be duplicated en masse with the click of a button. Anyone can own a “Renoir“, but only one can possess the original[2].

So what of the aspiring heraldic artist, the rank amateur, or (in my case) the novice? Those of us who want to dabble in heraldic design and entertain ourselves with our handiwork? Mr. Jamieson has words for us as well:

There is, of course, no problem with amateurs and hobbyists doing heraldic scribbles for their own amusement. I positively welcome this

As illustrated by my assumed arms as emblazoned, I am amongst the ranks of heraldic scribblers. I think in putting my illustrations together I violated nearly everything spoken against in the two articles. First, I pulled down SVGs of heraldic examples from Wikipedia. I cut and pasted elements to suit my needs. I traced over jpegs of lower quality so that I could make scalable vector images. I did my best not to use copyrighted images, so as not to violate anyone’s copyright. I bought several books on heraldry and heraldic art so that I would have examples to follow, but I have not developed my own style, nor likely will I. I simply reached a point with my “work” that I was not ashamed to post it to my own website. I sat back, satisfied (but not content) with the “quality” of what I had created. Would I do the same for someone else? Sure. Would I charge them for it? Absolutely not. One should not pay someone else for amateur quality work. Would I ever endeavor to become a professional heraldic artist. Never. This is not my forte, and as quoted above from Mr. Jamieson, it cuts into the livelihood of true artists.

All this hearkens back to the notion that technology undercuts talent. We can call this luddism if we like, but the fact remains that skills are lost when the means of creation are taken out of human hands. This is especially true in the arts. Where once a musician was required to perform great melodies, nowadays, anyone with Garage Band and a sufficient supply of instrumental samples can put together a song. That song can then be replayed in its digital “perfection” as many times as the listener desires. Likewise, the Renoir referenced above can be reprinted to exact tolerances as many times as it can be sold, always “perfect”. And this perfection can be obtained in anything reproduced digitally, but the element lacking is “soul”: that imperfect and one-offness that can only be imparted at the moment of creation by a human hand. The fingers strumming a string or grasping a brush. The pressure applied by human hand to create that which is truly unique.

So back to the premise of supply and demand. Are we who desire objects willing to pay for the quality of masters, or are we satisfied with a third-rate knock-off? I fear I know the answer. Will we see the demise that Mr. Jamieson fears? Let those of us interested in heraldic arts hope not.


[1] I am purposely ignoring arguments for the loss or destruction of the physical work and I realize a digital copy may be archived, replicated, recreated, &etc.

[2] What if the artist created two originals? They are still going to be two unique works, and not identical.

[UPDATE: 22 July 2013]
Here is another example of a truly talented heraldic artist:

Is a degree worth it? Part II

One of my favorite rants, the debasement of educational currency:

5 Reasons Why Your New Bachelor’s Degree Is Worthless:

With the increasing cost of college tuition, student loan debt, job scarcity, and opportunities for entrepreneurship online, is it any wonder that grads are wondering: “was getting my degree worthwhile?”

Well, that’s up to you do to decide.
5 Reasons Why Your Bachelor’s Degree Is Worthless

1.) Academic Inflation
In 1970, only 26% of middle-class workers had education beyond high school. Today, almost 60% of all jobs in the US require a higher education. Your new bachelor’s degree is becoming increasingly worthless as more and more people graduate from college, as jobs that used to need only a bachelor’s degree now prefer master’s degrees.

If the excess of bachelor’s degrees wasn’t enough, now we have an increase in master’s degree students who have decided to stay in school to wait out the recession: not only have you gone to school to earn a commodity, it’s now a sub-standard commodity.

It’s only a matter of time until you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a certification to mow lawns—there go all the summer jobs for kids.

2.) The Illusion of Safety
What used to be a guarantee of safety and stability has recently turned into an exercise in musical chairs. There aren’t enough jobs for everyone, and you find yourself scrambling to not be the odd man out.

According to a CNN article, less than half of college graduates under the age of 25 are working at a job that requires a college degree. The same article mentions a 2012 study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce titled “Hard Times: Not All College Majors are Created Equal,” showing that bachelor degree grads have an unemployment rate of 8.9%.

3.) Drowning in Debt
On average, the cost for one year of attendance at four-year public college or university costs 40% of a family’s income, and on average, approximately 40% of students leave school with a debt of $22,000. If you’re from a family that earns between $40k and $50k, that number jumps to $28,000.

Middle-class families will have more debt from student loans than their upper-class peers, who can pay for their education outright, and their lower class peers, who often qualify for grants and financial assistance. You might even end up being the one paying $1,000 a month for 20 years just for four years of school.

4.) The Source of Creativity
People seem to think that the simple act of attending college makes you more innovative and creative. That’s simply not true.

Creativity and innovation don’t come from what people teach you: new ideas come from your personal experiences, and your interaction with your environment.

5.) Your Professors Aren’t Concerned About Your Education
I know people who graduated with a degree in engineering who couldn’t do a derivative. I’m not joking.

Many professors are far more interested in tenure and their research than they are about making sure you get the best education they can possible give you. They grade you on curves so you can’t possibly fail, and the curriculum never changes. In fact, one study showed that 45% of students are no better at critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing after their sophomore year than they were when they began.

5 Reasons Your New Bachelor’s Degree Was Worth The Effort

1.) You’ll Be Better Off With One Than Without One
Although getting a degree isn’t the golden ticket to success anymore, it’s still a rite of passage in America. If you do need to get a job, having a degree can only help you—not only will you have more options to choose from, but you’ll also get paid more. It’s estimated that a degree is worth $1.3 million in additional lifetime earnings.

2.) Head-Fake Learning
College is about more than book-learning: it also teaches you how to think. It’s about learning how to become a leader and how to make impossible deadlines work on 3 hours of sleep.

If you take advantage of everything higher education has to offer, it’s an opportunity to learn how to initiate change, negotiate and experiment in life without any dire consequences.

3.) Experience
Going to college really is a once-in-a lifetime experience: living in a dorm room, having all-night study sessions…it’s not something that you can put off. Education you can get at any time, but this experience you can really only get once. Once you’re older, you mature too much to take the kinds of risks that are taken in college.

You fundamentally change as a person during the course of those four years. Anyone who’s gone to college and has friends who haven’t know what it’s like to go back home and realize that their old friends are exactly the same as they were four years ago. I’m not saying that people who haven’t changed are somehow worse off in life, I’m saying that if you want to experience that kind of world-view change, college is the best place to do it.

4.) Intellectual Stimulation
It’s not until after college that you realize how mentally stimulated you were every single day. You were learning new concepts from half a dozen different subjects every single day; you could pick what you wanted to learn about next semester using electives, and at any given point, you could meet someone on campus who could completely alter your world-view with a single conversation.

5.) It’s Really Fun
You have your entire life in which to work: even if you end up being self-employed, work is never going to be as carefree as college was.

A college degree doesn’t guarantee security, just as not having a college degree doesn’t guarantee failure. When making the decision whether to attend or not, check the facts as they pertain to your individual situation. If you do go to college, it should be for more than just getting a good job and making money; that may not happen for you. It should be for the experience, intellectual stimulation, and all the things you learn in tandem with your classes. Don’t depend on a company to save you—save yourself by getting the most out of your four years at school.

Featured photo credit: Students throwing graduation hats in the air celebrating via Shutterstock

Related posts:
17 Back to School Lifehacks to Start Your Semester
Why You (Probably) Shouldn’t Take out Loans for College
Back to School: How to Graduate from College with a High GPA

I’ve previously posted on this topic, and on the occasion of having finally been awarded a Master of Science in Management, I think that part of the problem is a simple matter of supply and demand. We have told at least two generations now that everyone needs to go to college and get a Bachelor’s Degree, thus flooding the market with degreed individuals, when in all honesty, the positions requiring degrees on paper don’t really need a degree in practice. Employers list a degree as a requirement because it shows a commitment to follow through and complete something. Whether or not the applicants did or not cannot be readily determined.

We have debased the value of a degree in the same way the Fed debases the US Dollar by going on “printing sprees” (nevermind that physical dollars are not made, just zeros added to accounts) that inflate away federal debt. The losers are the ones who must pay for this education that often unfortunately does not have a good return on investment.

At the same time, we have placed trades in a negative light as not as prestigious as white collar jobs, but tradesmen often must display much more intelligence and ingenuity in accomplishing their challenges. Not to mention that having done something with one’s hands is often much more personally rewarding than the outcomes of thinking jobs. Trades teach real-world job skills, not just abstract concepts that one may have opportunity to apply in his or her career, IF one can even recollect the concepts when the opportunity for application arrives.

Being a Gen-Xer, my generation will probably be the one that has to first deal with this dilemma with its kids, and I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about it for at least another ten years.

Blog Commentary and Fair Use

You wouldn’t be able to tell it from my utter lack of fashion sense, but I read a couple fashion blogs (manly fashion blogs, have you) and the post below stirred me to post on a topic that affects the way I pull a lot of content into my site:

Friday Question: U Mad?:
Senior year of college, I took a Comm Law 100 course. I had no daydreams about delivering Law & Order-style closing arguments dancing in my head; I just needed to fill some credits and thought it might be interesting. To this day, all I remember are the name of a few cases and the distinct memory of my father telling me never to be a lawyer.

I wish I’d listened a little better in class, though, because the question of content rights has been swirling around my little menswear world the past couple days, and it would be nice to be a bit better informed.

The gist of it is this:
StyleSeek, the new men’s style curation and discovery site, launched at the beginning of this week. I talked about it on Style Girlfriend a few days ago, as did a few other outlets (a little-known pub called GQ among them).

It came to my attention after the launch that some menswear bloggers (I don’t know how many – could be a handful, could be a whole bunch) weren’t contacted about their work being featured on StyleSeek. If their articles could appear on the site, if they wanted to be affiliated with the site at all.

As for me, I was asked to be a part of the endeavor by Ryan Plett, the creative director of StyleSeek. We had a lovely brunch a few weeks back where he told me all about the site and asked me to be one of its “influencers.” Send them a picture, a bio, and fill out my styleDNA.” Easy enough. I said yes.

So I knew. I knew content from Style Girlfriend would be pulled in. At the time, I didn’t question the legality, morality, or the fairness of my words being repurposed on another website, all for free. At all. To be honest, I didn’t think much about any of it. I was given a log-in and played with the site a little bit pre-launch but figured things would change, as they always do once a site goes live and users are able to kick the tires a little. Like when URL shortener debuted a new site; there were a few glaring user experience issues, all of which were fixed in about two and a half days. I’d wait for the site to be up for a minute, I figured, before paying the whole thing too much mind.

Then the site went live and a firestorm erupted. A few of my most eloquent – and unabashedly vocal – menswear blogger friends took to Twitter and their respective blogs to say, hey, our content is up on this site called StyleSeek. We’ve never heard of it and we don’t want the words we’ve written used on some other site without getting paid for it. That is stealing.

You can read more here and here.

Then, since I had written about the site earlier in the week with only good, non-lawyer-y things to say about it, I had people asking me, “Megan, did you know about this? Did you know your content was on this site? Aren’t you mad?” The answer was yes, yes, and well, no, not really…but maybe I should be??
I started Style Girlfriend not as a way to make a living but as a means to getting to where I could be making a living. I wanted to increase my exposure at a time when I wanted to write for a living but didn’t, to communicate with an audience who I thought wasn’t being addressed enough, to engage a reader who I wanted to entertain and educate. I’ve done that, hopefully well, in the past year and change. Now, SG takes up more of my time, and there are ads on the sides and I do in fact make a little pocket change from it, but I’ve stayed frozen in the mindset of “Must get exposure. Get paid in exposure.”

Would I like some of this $1M of funding that StyleSeek has to kick around? Sure. Yes. Of course. Did I settle for the hope that my mug and my words living on their site would increase traffic to my own site, indirectly resulting in a (paltry) bump in ad revenue and potentially more paid content opportunities? Yes. Because as I said above, the nagging voice in my head tells me I should just feel lucky to be asked to the party, as it were.

I wish I could be more of a drum beater for the rights of content creators, but 1) the aforementioned intro-level law survey course under my belt does not embolden me to speak on these matters, and 2) I knew what I was getting into so it would be insincere to express outrage now. And I have gotten some new readers from all this (Hello, by the way! Welcome! Go visit this post; fellas seem to like it). So I got what I was promised by Ryan at brunch so many moons ago; it’s just now that I realize what I was promised wasn’t what I should have settled for.

Yesterday, Ryan announced that StyleSeek would begin shortening blog posts on the site, and link out to those bloggers’ sites. That’s certainly a step in the right direction. Because ideally, I want people to read my content on my site, bouncing around through my archives for a few hours, and finding me so generally delightful that they feel compelled to PayPal me a million dollars on the spot.

But I also want people to know me. To know about Style Girlfriend. To think about it a week from now and visit it. A month from now and visit it. I want brands who show up in my styledna to say, “hey, we want to work with that pretty lady” (I hope that’s exactly what they say) and get in touch and offer me money to write words. I love writing words. I also love paying my rent each month. There has to be a way to be a content creator and a grown up who not only understands but demands for themselves the respect that comes from work-money, money-work.

So for my Friday question, I’m crowdsourcing my reaction: Should I be upset about all this? Should I pull my content from StyleSeek? Should I have asked for compensation up front? I’d love to hear what you have to say on the question of content creation and compensation on the internet. Maybe you think we’re still in the wild west phase of the web, and I should just be happy they attributed my words to me at all?

And heck, while we’re at it, who would you like to see me work with? Blogger collaborations? Brands? I want to maintain the integrity of this site by only partnering with brands I believe in and think you guys would want to hear about, but I also want to keep my lights on and my stove running, and it would be awesome if the time I spent on Style Girlfriend contributed more towards the foundation of ol’ Maslow’s pyramid. Who could i partner with (on sponsored posts, say, or giveaways) that you’d be interested to hear more about? Let’s help keep style girlfriend going, the right way.
And as always, thanks for your support. It means the world to me.

I can understand the bloggers who feel like the site mentioned above has misappropriated their content for profit, which would be unfortunate, but for my purposes, I’d like to look at the doctrine of Fair Use. Fair Use has a long history in common law, but is only as old as I am in codified US law:

17 U.S.C. § 107

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

 So let’s look at the way I use other people’s content on this site. It usually happens like this:

  1. I have Google Reader configured to pull in RSS feeds from sites I like.
  2. I have Google Alerts configured to pull in stuff from all over the Web with certain keywords and dump them into an RSS feed in Google Reader.
  3. If I see something I like that I want to share, I import it into my site from Google Reader.
  4. I try to attribute the site I pulled the content from and always leave their links in place.
  5. I either say “look at what I’ve found”, or I provide some type of commentary on why I shared it.
  6. I don’t attempt to make any money off of other people’s content. In fact, I have had Google AdSense account for as long as I’ve had this blog up, and I haven’t made enough from it to buy a good cup of coffee, nor did I expect to.
  7. I license my original works under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. This allows:
  1. You: 
  1. to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
  2. to Remix — to adapt the work
  • Conditions:  
    1. Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
    2. Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes. 
    3. Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. 

    I take an “Information wants to be free” approach to my own writings, but I don’t want to misappropriate other people’s efforts, nor do I want to profit from them. I don’t have a right to determine that other people’s “Information wants to be free”. My goal in running this site is to patch together a quilt of topics that interest me. If they interest you, too, then great! We both benefit.

    Furthermore, I think the way I am using other people’s content fits within the fair use doctrine. My work is not commercial. I don’t attempt to diminish the value of the content in question. I hope that when I post something from someone else’s site, that those who find it on my site will follow the links back to the originator’s site. If they had one snippet worth reading here, you know, they probably have even more gems back on their own site.

    Caution towards a cashless society, part II

    Another article on going cashless:

    A Cashless, High-Value, Anonymous Currency: How?: jfruh writes “The cashless future is one of those concepts that always seems to be just around the corner, but never quite gets here. There’s been a lot of hype around Sweden going almost cashless, but most transactions there use easily traceable credit and debit cards. Bitcoin offers anonymity, but isn’t backed by any government and has seen high-profile hacks and collapses in value. Could an experiment called MintChip brewing in Canada finally take us to cashless nirvana?”

    Share on Google+

    Read more of this story at Slashdot.

    Please see my previous post on this topic.

    The only cashless system is a 100% barter system. Or pure communism: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need“, which has never and will never work due to human nature. If one’s hard work is used to reward the sloth of his fellow man, then he, likewise, will not work. And to quote from my moral code: “If any will not work, neither let him eat.“, and “…if any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.“, so at least for me, this is not an option. On top of the fact that there is no incentive to work under communism, it requires a strong central government to force labor. As so aptly worded by George Orwell, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others“. Let’s not just pick on communism here, because there is a strong case to be made that all fiat currencies are Orwellian. It is not in the power of “We the People” or the free market to set and control the value of the U.S. Dollar, but that power has been granted to the Federal Reserve.

    As a Junior Mogambo Ranger, I’ve got a pretty idea of where a cashless system would lead us.

    Artisan Resurgence

    From Der Spiegel:

    Backlash against Consumerism: Handicraft Sites Turn Hobbies into Big Business: Internet companies like Etsy and Germany’s DaWanda are helping to promote a renaissance in handicrafts in Europe and around the world. The firms provide platforms that enable individual artisans to sell their wares on the web in a growing market niche. And business is booming, as both companies expand internationally and venture capitalists make new investments.