Tourist Lanes Redux
To: Francoise Mouly, Art Director, The New Yorker
Decades of living with graphic designers, at home and at Pentagram, has only boosted my inherent respect and admiration for you and your colleagues, so don’t take this letter as anything but a collegial one. All those years have also taught me about the value of ideas and the difficulty of owning something as complex as a creative act. But seeing a mirror of one’s own work on the cover of The New Yorker is still worth a comment.
The cover of last week’s issue, by Bruce McCall is witty, charmingly rendered and rings true to most New Yorkers. It is also an idea that has, nearly precisely, been previously published online and in print. And it has been the subject of an earlier art project that I discovered (or discovered me) when I published my ideas and drawings online.
I have written a book called “100 Ideas for New York” and idea #001 is “Tourist Lanes on Sidewalks”. You can see this on my website (www.biber.co), as part of an article I wrote and illustrated in the August issue of Print Magazine and, for all I know, any number of other places from other creators. Though it is not Bruce McCalls entire take on the ‘tourist issue’ it is, I think, a core of the idea. It raises an interesting set of questions about originality, ownership of ideas and copyright that might be fun to discuss, but are somewhat academic. I admire and enjoy Bruce McCall’s work and recognize that he is a fount of original and delightful ideas and equally charming illustrations. I have enjoyed his work for years and I know that he doesn’t need any outside inspiration to create his illustrations. He is an original.
But I do hope that we all recognize an obligation to acknowledge prior ideas that mirror our own. I did as soon as I found out that the Tourist Lanes were the subject of a funny and well documented art project by Jeff Greenspan. And I did it again this week when I discovered my Idea #010 was actually built, in part, by artist Rebecca Hackemann. I immediately contacted her, credit was given by me and my website now links to her project website.
The question I would ask is; what you would expect of me if the creation or publication of my work followed Bruce McCall’s cover illustration? If you would ask for an acknowledgement or other recognition then I would hope you would reciprocate to me and others who have separately invented this idea. If you believe that the free world of ideas and illustrations has no particular obligations in this regard then let me know and I will leave it at that.
I remain a loyal reader and subscriber, and admirer of graphic design,