Artistic License
A proposal from Andy Deck


Abstract: Artistic License makes it official: anyone can be an artist. There's no need for hard work or advanced training. Just a few clicks and you will have your Artistic License. Join the numerous artists who, as Alphonse Karr once observed,* are ever more numerous because the job can be done without learning it first. Can't draw you say? Use a camera or upload any old image: get started using your artistic license today!

Ever since R. Mutt there has been an air of suspicion about "modern art" and what constitutes art. In response to abstract modernist painting, the philistine's "I could paint that!" exemplifies a way of viewing art that is still quite common eighty years after the Fountain. Artistic License implicates its participants in the production of another suspiciously simple serial artwork, and it invites each person who sees it to identify him or herself as the artist. Even if the person's visual contribution is crappy, this can be dismissed as, ahem, artistic license.

License While interactive art online has more than ten years of history in 2007, basic assumptions about the division of labor between the artist and the spectator haven't changed substantially for most citizens of Internet-enabled societies. Artistic License targets this issue ironically, using the co-creation of an ID card — an "artistic license" — as the framework for a series of online-accessible compositions.

Artistic License leverages the proliferation of PC-integrated cameras as well as recent changes to the Flash plugin that give free access to image data from such cameras. It will be easy for people who have MacBookPro-style integrated cameras to snap portraits for their licenses. Other options will exist for people who don't have this Camera control hardware, including drawing and uploading images. The end result will be a mixture of regularity, since the pictorial and textual elements of the licenses are structured, and variety, because the visiting artist will be able to change the photo, signature, text, colors, styles, emblems, and security features. Many expressive aspects of the series, what distinguishes one element from the next, are in the hands of the viewer-participant. The various contributions are liable to be, by turns, performative, rebellious, naive, sophisticated, vulgar, etc.

While Artistic License is primarily an online phenomenon, everyone knows that, as a sign I once read put it, "laminated cards last forever." Fortunately, I was the lucky recipient of a squeaky old card laminator years ago. It will be pressed into service for a public event during which people can print and laminate their Artistic Licenses. Additionally, genuine laminated cards will be awarded at the end of the first year to the ten best cards, as determined by online voting.

License Artistic License encourages card-holders to swipe across the borders of technology and identity. The greater socio-political context for this work includes privacy and personal liberty issues stemming from the security state apparatus. Emerging identification technologies like biometrics, RFID transmitters, facial recognition, global positioning, and embedded microchips§ threaten to usurp basic freedoms of behavior and identity, constraining the imagination in the name of a perpetual war. While making their licenses, people are given a variety of options. For example, they might add a fake fingerprint or encode a brief message into a "data matrix" barcode. While mimicking personal identification, the irreverence of Artistic License is an implicit repudiation of the regimes of difference that enforce nationality, legitimacy, and entitlement.

What is Artistic License good for? You be the judge. Practically speaking, it just might get you free admission to the Musée de la Ville de Paris, and other institutions that like artists.


* Karr actually said this about writers, but I will invoke Artistic License after all.
§ A new program in Washington state began issuing new "enhanced" driver's licenses in January 2008 that use RFID technology.