Steal Like an Artist

Posted: May 25, 2014 in Course 2
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
The Ethical Crossroads visual note on using images ethically by Nicki Hambleton

The Ethical Crossroads visual note on using images ethically by Nicki Hambleton

The Scroll society

In a world where to scroll is the new flicking (through pages), it seems that images are the most important factor in gaining someone’s interest and attention. In the commercial world it takes just a second to capture or lose a potential customer and if you haven’t grabbed their attention they won’t look any further.

In my field, individual art making is a result of days or months of development, trial and error, experimenting, failing, scrunching it up and starting again. An artist never stops planning or trying something new and is rarely happy with the result. With Middle School students they are a mix of this: perfectionists and dabblers, experimenters and non artists alike. But as they flood through my doors each week, don’t they deserve the respect and credit like anyone else?

Whether you are an artist or not you use or respond to images every day, throughout the day. Whether scrolling through Facebook or searching for an image to use on presentation or worksheet, poster, webpage or blog post, you cannot avoid images. We process visuals 60,000 times faster than text, so it is hardly surprising that they feature heavily at every glance. Infographics, gifs, videos, animations, they are all intrinsic to our lives. Images help us to understand easier, we learn better from them and we respond faster to visuals. The attention span of our audiences is much shorter these days so images are quick to help comprehend what is being communicated.

What’s mine is yours
Photo Credit: Lollie-Pop via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Lollie-Pop via Compfight cc

Google image Search is like a candy shop to visual searchers and it is through this easy and quick method of finding images that, for so many years, people have used them without care for the ownership. Whatever did we do before the Internet, when it came to using images on school projects or for presentations? I remember using images from magazines or drawing them myself from a book or encyclopaedia- we just didn’t have access to the millions of images available now at the tip of our fingers and just a click away. I remember getting inspiration from the vast library at my university when coming up with a new idea for the latest Graphics project we were set or scrolling Creative Review or Design Week for fresh direction.  Do youngsters these days realise how easy it all is? But, as I said in a previous post, with power comes responsibility.

We trust others to share ethically online but can we always trust creative commons licensed work? In a previous post, Clint Hamada queried one of the images I posted from Compfight, listed as cc. Delving deeper by using google image search to find its origin, I find that the image appears in 100s of websites, most of which it has not been credited at all. The first use of the image that I could find since October 2007 was on an article about a Pre-Uni new college and the most recent, on Peach County High School’s front page, with no link or reference at all. Returning to the Flickr site where the image was first uploaded in 2007 there are similar style photographs of staged set ups and on further inspection there are a lot of Stock style images in the album, so it is unclear if the originator took it themselves. Being a trusting individual, I like to think that people tell the truth and act ethically but I am also realistic. How do we know if what we see is all it says it is? How do we go about checking? But more importantly why are so many people, businesses, websites using other’s images so blatantly with absolutely no reference to the owner?

Photo Credit: pennstatenews via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: pennstatenews via Compfight cc

I love to share and I am more than happy for others to use and share my work if it helps them and others to learn. Until recently it didn’t occur to me that anyone might want to use my work and so I hadn’t considered making them cc. But as I grow as a sketchnoter and run more workshops referencing my inspirations, I realise that it is crucial that we acknowledge other’s work that we as learners build from. Developing a presentation and a future ebook, I asked permission of some of my sketchnote gurus if they wouldn’t mind being in my book or workshop. Most are fabulous and happily allow this through their cc work on Flickr. If someone isn’t, again that is fine, it is their choice.

In today’s society, with its share and remix culture, it is imperative that we, as Art teachers in particular, spread the word quickly and simply to all our students that sharing is fine but stealing is not.

Steal like an Artist

In a conversation with a Grade 7 student the other day he thought it would be fine to take an image off google to use in his Common Craft style Stop Motion animation to share the plight of street dogs in India. I explained that if we were to share his animation online, on Youtube, or in an ebook about the work of our Global Concerns group, then he would be responsible for attributing the source of these images and it might be that the creator is difficult to find or may not want their images used. He could not see what the problem was and stated that “everyone does it”. I agree, I see it all the time. In presentations, on posters and other people’s youtube videos. Clearly the message has not got out there to the millions, or even within my school it seems.

It was on Week 3 of Course 2 that the proverbial penny really dropped. Being a Copyright Criminal was what bothered me the most about today’s take-take society and it was here that I felt, as an Art teacher that I could make the most difference. If  we could get students to understand the importance of respecting other’s work as well as protecting their own we would help to spread the word to others.

Photo Credit: opensourceway via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: opensourceway via Compfight cc

I would like to work closer with our communications department at school, who frequently share their own photographs through their own an image bank for all staff to access. Today I was sifting through years of images for some photos to support a parent presentation I am co-running on Monday. By sharing our own photographs, we can create image banks for each other and who better to do this but the Art department.

Some companies have cottoned on to this by developing their own online site for both creators and users, as IMGembed shows you:

I am wondering if art students could start a trial business online to see how far their image is used and how popular it is. Personally I am happy for them to share their work for free but with so many businesses in need of images it could be a lucrative idea! Ethically, students making money? I’m not so sure but it could all be for charity, so why not? If not then a share-alike Flickr album would be a great place to start, teaching them about adding Creative Commons licenses to their work.

Collaborative planning

…….and so the collaborative unit was born between Matt and Anne and I. Each of us will no doubt run it in a different way, possibly with different outcomes, yet the journey and the destination will be the same: to foster awareness and develop an understanding of the origin and use of images and how we use them ethically in today’s society.

Picasso once said ” good artists copy but great artists steal” highlighting that everything has been done before and that influence is a huge part of being an artist. Despite this we owe it to each other, as fellow artists, designers and photographers to show respect for the act of creation and to give credit where it is due.

Steal like an artist is a book by Austin Kleon


  1. Clint Hamada says:


    Nice job tracking down the provenance of that questionable picture! I’ve got another one for you. Alan Levine and others have tried digging into the “process images 60,000 times faster” claim. Have a look and let me know what you think? (Note: I do believe, as I think everybody does, that we process images faster than text. But I don’t know about quantifying the difference…).

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Thanks and yes – so difficult to track some of these quotes/data that i want to use for Learning2! I will have a look into Alan’s blog and see what comes out – thanks again for taking the time!

  2. C R D says:

    Well, I’m glad that someone else views the on-line copyright conundrum similarly to the way I do. I can take your ideas in “Steal Like an Artist” and easily morph it into “Steal Like a Teacher.” Hmm, see how I did that?

    Always glad to see what you’re up to on your blog. Keep it up.

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