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Re: Actually Doing Something About the Great Paleoart Ripoff

Greetings everyone,

I suppose at this point I might as well tip my hand slightly.  I am not going 
to share too much, but the ball is rolling well enough now that I would be 
remiss not to share a teaser.

In short, I am working on another large gathering in honor of the paleoartist 
community at the SVP meeting in Vegas this year, and I already have plans to 
formally suggest some organization and future goals at that event.  I do not 
have many details yet (and those I do have I prefer not to share at this time), 
but I hope it will be similar to the one we ran in Pittsburgh (for those that 
were not present, that event was an open bar and food gathering for about 150 
individuals).  At this second Paleoartist dinner I plan to propose an informal 
paleoartist society (which will obviously overlap somewhat with GNSI), and to 
produce the production of a web interface and other materials in association 
with it that can be referenced appropriately in both print and digital 
contexts.  This process is still too early for me disclose all details of what 
I have planned, but I will say that the process is moving well, currently.

I am also working with our financial officers here (Chatham University) to pull 
together a scientific illustration grant proposal that would create a pool of 
money at the University from which faculty could draw appropriate and 
competitive pay for scientific illustration (paleontological in nature or 
otherwise).  For those that are not aware, Chatham was the source of funding 
for the artist dinner at SVP 2010.  We hope that this proposal, if funded, can 
help set a precedent.  Federal funding agencies (NSF, specifically) already 
have some avenues to support visualization of scientific results, and host a 
contest in that regard (though much of it is not traditional illustration, but 
rather artistic use of modern imaging techniques.  Some of the awarded works 
are of an illustrative/restorative nature, however).

I also hope to create a venue through which artists can make works they 
generated during training (for example, works done for classes towards a formal 
Masters degree, or self-directed works) that were never released can generate 
some kind of pay and recognition, especially for young artists just out of 
training.  Again, I have a relatively detailed set of concepts on this but I do 
not wish to share them publicly at this time.

I have a few critiques regarding Greg Paul's proposal (quoted below this 
message for those that have not read it thoroughly).  None of these concerns 
preclude the general approach, but may be worth consideration:

1) The minimum rate is going to quickly be seen as the maximum rate by funding 
agencies.  As GP notes, this is not altogether tragic given that the current 
situation is so difficult.  However, if a single-rate system becomes standard, 
it will tend to underpay the best in the field, and it will make it very 
difficult for new artists just entering the field to find work at all (while it 
is unfair that young artists are fleeced the way they are, one of the few 
weapons they have to compete with more established artists is the possibility 
of a lower asking price).  A tiered standard may therefore be more appropriate 
(i.e. minimum rate scaled for years of experience).

2) While I understand that the issue of a living rate needs to be pushed with 
some effort, I do think it is important to leave artists the freedom to donate 
works where they see fit.  There are times when donation is appropriate.  These 
circumstances, themselves, can be considered and perhaps prerequisites for 
donation could be suggested.  Right now, artists are being effectively guilted 
into donating works even in cases where it is not clearly appropriate to do so.

3) I want to draw attention and emphasize this statement from GP's post: "Some 
sympathetic managers – they are not all evil – will be relieved to have 
something they can wave in front of their higher ups."  I believe this is often 
overlooked.  If you are working on a larger project (television, film, museum 
exhibit) then the individual with which you are communicating is rarely the 
person that sets budgets.  I have actually found that most of them are content 
to pay you - if they can get their superiors to authorize such a transaction.  
The art directors on film projects, for example, are often artists themselves.  
They know what it feels like to get ripped off.  Giving them ammunition is 

One final word, as well, regarding the concerns that some have had regarding 
GP's thoughts on referencing and standard position of illustrated animals - I 
don't agree with all of what GP suggests (his views are somewhat more extreme 
than my own), but in general I think there is a tendency to underestimate what 
is covered by copyright.  Furthermore, referencing and using an artist's 
skeletal restorations for further work without infringement of ethics/copyright 
is not nearly so difficult as some seem to expect it might be - in most cases, 
a simple letter to the artist to obtain permission will secure the opportunity 
with no further concerns.  Furthermore, there have been many posts concerned 
about the usage of referencing and standardizations for scientific usage; I 
think many of these critiques have been quite good, but I also suspect many of 
them overlooked the clause regarding *use for commercial enterprise*.  Many of 
the concerns that have been raised are, while intellectually reasonable, 
technically moot in the context of non-commercial scenarios.  Much of what we 
do as scientists actually falls under non-commerical categories.


--Mike Habib

Michael Habib
Assistant Professor of Biology
Chatham University
Woodland Road, Pittsburgh PA  15232
Buhl Hall, Room 226A
(443) 280-0181

On Mar 11, 2011, at 10:33 AM, <GSP1954@aol.com> <GSP1954@aol.com> wrote:

> Having groused about the paleoart problem from a personal perspective it is
> time to move on to how the community can do things to improve the overall
> situation. Perhaps dramatically.
> And it is not just the paleo community. The discussion has spread to other
> freelance science illustrators who work in exhibits etc.
> One item coming in from some non list feedback is that it is apparently
> becoming an increasing problem is that more and more (but not all) 
> institutions
> are becoming more ruthless in pitching artists against one another in
> bidding wars. Some – including large scale exhibits producers – are being 
> driven
> out of business by this sort of thing, as well as chronic demands to lower
> prices until the work is no longer profitable. This reflects a general
> American management trend to practice libertarian social Darwinism towards the
> people who actually have talent in order to maximize their product at minimal
> cost. The question is what to do about it.
> Some sort of formal union may not be workable, but some form of
> in-their-faces publicity and organization is required.
> A while back Tess K did the nice booklet on pricing and ethical practices
> that unfortunately was not as effective as hoped (this can be posted as a pdf
> BTW with an historical explanation of its nature in order to give an idea
> of what can be done). In hindsight the problem was that only those who got it
> in hand saw it – i. e. it was too individual to have impact, in particular
> most management people didn’t see it (and probably none currently working
> knows about it) -- plus it being a print version meant it became outdated and
> so forth.
> The best thing to do is set up a website on the issue. Maybe it can be
> paleoartistry alone, or be joined with those who do science illustrations in
> general, or they can be done in parallel. That can be worked out.
> Among the items the site would include would be a politely but firmly
> worded statement of the ethics and practices expected and required by artists 
> of
> all project managers who hire their work. These would state that it is the
> ethical responsibility of anyone managing an institution or project to be
> careful to ensure that the compensation they provide is sufficient to support
> the artist in a proper lifestyle including health care, retirement, SS
> payments, yadda yadda. There can be an explanation of why this is fair and
> necessary in case any of them are dolts which many but by no means all are.
> Emphasize the unusual research and reconstruction expertise, effort and time
> required by paleoartists. Managers must therefore design and budget their 
> projects
> so that they are not overly ambitious that the creative talent will have to
> drop their pricing to the point they are working for substandard wages that
> make it impossible for them to earn a decent if not lucrative lifestyle.
> Competitive bidding – especially below the minimums noted below – are a
> no-no. I am working on a preliminary draft and will soon post it.
> Another item on the website will then provide an extensive listing of
> minimal pricing for various projects. These minimal prices would be set to
> provide the full compensation deserved and required by skilled talent. 
> Generous
> but not outrageous. Anyone would be free to ask for more. As time goes on the
> minimums can be gradually upped both for inflation, and perhaps to raise the
> bar a little. Tess might be a person to put together an initial version,
> which can be sent to a set of people who can suggest adjustments until the
> final version is arrived at.
> Here’s how this works. Say you the artist is contacted by someone doing a
> project who asks for an estimate or a bid. Tell them, hey, no problem. You
> set my fees relative to the those posted on the website. Plus, you only work
> with those who follow the posted ethical practices. You see, this way you
> don’t have to make it personal which is always awkward and is usually left
> unsaid, now it’s just the industry standard posted right there on the web for
> all to read. If asked for a competitive bid by all means decline. If they
> start whining and begging poverty and noting that certainly you would 
> understand
> their problem simply point out to them that you of course cannot undercut
> the standard rates, and if they cannot raise their payments then they need to
> scale back their project as per the statement.
> For example, say doing 10 dinosaur restorations for a science center
> exhibit or a cable documentary is worth 10 monetary units on the list, so 
> that is
> what you ask for. This way you do not have to feel awkward by requesting a
> good solid reward for your efforts that will help you take that well deserved
> vacation and put the tykes through college. Say the project manager says
> gosh golly, we have only 5 monetary units budgeted, and it is just ever so
> hard for science centers to raise money in these tough times, or that the
> profit margin for their documentary won’t allow them to pay more than 5 
> monetary
> units. Couldn’t you help us out this time around? Note that by merely making
> this request they have gone nonprofessional by pressuring you to accept
> payment below standard professional levels. In turn, for you to accept 
> payments
> that do not meet professional needs would be unprofessional on your part.
> So reply that gosh golly you are just so sorry (not), if you all you have is
> just 5 monetary units then you get 5 dinosaur restorations in return. After
> all, that is the minimum industry standard, now isn’t it? You the
> professional artist are not asking for anything out of the ordinary. Feel 
> free to
> restress how you have to pay for your own health care, entire SS etc if you
> like. In other words, it ain’t your problem that they don’t have enough money
> to pay would you should get, it’s entirely their’s. There is a fair chance
> they will cough up the funds. Or they will scale pay and you will get what
> you should for the work you do, freeing you to go for those hikes instead of
> staying in doors on nice days to get under paid for a lot of work, or do
> another job. If they do not hire you you will not be exploited.
> What if a manager approaches someone new to the bizz and says that since
> they lack a body of work they should undercut those that do have one. He or
> she needs to say it makes no difference, the minimum rates apply. This will
> benefit everyone.
> This scheme will work best if every sticks to their guns. Hopefully over
> time the management folks will be tamed and disciplined into the compliant
> employers they should be.
> A potential problem is that the minimum fees could also turn into maximums,
> making it hard to go higher. At this point the situation is so bad that it
> may not be relevant. In any case one does not have to utilize the list, and
> can go ahead and ask for more and see what happens. It may work on occasion.
> Here’s another great idea. When the website is ready send a friendly notice
> to every single museum, science center, science magazine, and documentary
> company in the US, Canada, Australia and England cheerfully telling them
> about it, and how we are sure that all will understand and cooperate. Include
> with that the statement on expected project manager standards. That way they
> will all have a heads up on the new situation. Some may well realize for the
> first time the problem, alert others in their institutions as to the new
> thinking about the situation, and make sincere efforts to accommodate the
> requirements in future projects. Some sympathetic managers – they are not all
> evil – will be relieved to have something they can wave in front of their
> higher ups. Maybe next time when we artists are contacted a project manager 
> will
> on occasion actually up front offer to meet the requirements alleviating
> those pesky negotiations in the dark. Others might be shamed into complying.
> Shame is always good. Then, send out the notice every few years as a “friendly
> reminder,” especially for new managers as they turn over.
> But wait, there’s more! An additional possibility would be for artists,
> when they receive fair or better payment, to send the info in to the site 
> where
> it can be posted. This would help set further precedent and guidance about
> pricing.
> Now here is an idea I came up while writing this that even I admit is cool.
> Have a location where artists can complain about mistreatment by project
> managers. The complaints could only be formal, just the facts statements of
> fact with any basic charges of any unethical behavior if they occurred, no
> over the top rants and accusations. The potential beauty of this is that
> hopefully it will not need to be used. Mere publicized existence of the site
> should have a tame and shame impact on employers. And if there is reason to 
> think
> that someone is chronically underbidding they and those hiring them can be
> pointed out. Again, just a statement of what is known.
> To top it all off, when the site is up and running send out a press release
> to science journalists that lets the world know we are not going to take it
> anymore. Contact the journalists personally to make sure they don’t let it
> slip by. Might get into the science sections of the NYT, Wash Post, Wall St.
> J. Really put the museums, documentary producers and their practices in the
> spotlight at long last.
> The reason paleo and other science artists have been getting screwed is
> because until now dealing with the people who have the money has been a 
> private
> affair in which everyone working in the dark has been at a severe
> disadvantage. The web is a mixed bag, but we should be exploiting its 
> potential to
> force the money people to operate out in the open where they cannot get away
> with it. Keeping it private leaves them in control, shining light on the
> situation can but us in the drivers seat.
> As the site is outlined above a nice thing is that if it works it does not
> require a formal union. If it does not work that can be reconsidered down
> the line.
> On the site there can also be other items, such as ethical principles for
> paleoartists. Advice sections. Etc. It can start simple and expand with time.
> Anyone can contribute articles.
> Now, before people who have not necessarily thought this through yet
> (especially nonartists who one wonders why they are intervening in the first
> place) hit the keyboards to nay say his, please do us all a favor. Criticize 
> what
> I actually say, not what you think I said because you did not read this
> carefully enough. Then make sure any criticisms are really well founded –
> solidly thought out views can be valuable. And criticizing is easy. What is
> really useful rather than just complaining is proposing useful solutions. So 
> if
> you do not have a viable alternative perhaps it is best to not just be
> critical. And please understand that the current situation is really bad,
> something needs to be done. I was about to say the situation cannot get 
> worse, but
> it will get worse unless we get organized at some level.
> On related topics, the idea of a collective web based paleoart bazaar is a
> good idea. Anyone could use it, anyone who does would be free to do their
> own sales via any alternative means they desire. And a tiny part of the
> revenues could be used to run the above website.
> By the way, it is no longer necessary to print up a bunch of prints, store
> them, and hope they sell (no way I am going to have a bunch of prints around
> and pack them up for shipping). They can be printed and shipped to order
> via web services.
> While writing this up it occurred to me that that when you think about it
> these things should have been done awhile back. And late is better than never
> (unless pulling a rip cord of course).
> G Paul</HTML>