Every once and a while an art museum (or two or three) does something so jaw-droppingly clever that in hindsight it seems like an obvious thing to do. So it is with the decision by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum and various entities at Yale University to make high-resolution images of art from their collections available for anyone to use, for any purpose, copyright-free. (At Yale special credit goes to the Yale Center for British Art, which got out ahead of the rest of the school’s similar efforts.)
As a result, if you want to make a t-shirt, a tote bag or a beach towel out of a YCBA Rubens, just download-and-go. If you’re a PhD student who wants to publish her dissertation about Constable as an e-book, here are scores of Constables you can download and e-publish free of charge.
My column for Modern Painters this month (not yet online, but on newsstands now) is about how and why LACMA, the YCBA and the Walters are tearing down the copyright wall — and what they could be enabling:
[W]hile the result of all this openness could ultimately be a special boon to marketers, advertisers and others who might want to use these images commercially, the more important reason for museums to tear down the copyright walls is to encourage scholarship and innvoative, image-rich educational materials. Any university student can now publish images from LACMA, Yale or Walters collections as part of her dissertation.“It’s now free for schools everywhere to use our art in their classrooms,” Govan said. “I have a 16 year-old in New York schools and it’s a big issue. Teachers are always trying to find ways to get them images for nothing. Now they can.”
Here’s hoping we see innovative creative-folk swoop in and take advantage of the great artworks made available by LACMA, Yale, the Walters and others. Heck, if some art-smart craft brewer creates ‘A Philosopher’s Ale’ and puts LACMA’s Ribera on its label, I’ll buy it.