Art, Crankypantsing

The ATC Debacle and WTF?

On a couple of mail lists I belong to, the subject of people selling Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) has come up. ATCs were the brainchild of a Swiss artist. In the mid-1990s he came up with the idea of small (3.5 x 2.5 inch) original works of art that would be traded in person. The only stipulations were that they would be a certain size and that they would be swapped, not sold. Other than that, anything goes. The idea was that artists would meet in person and trade their small works of art. It would be a way for artists (most of whom aren’t rolling in money) to collect artwork from other artists.

So what’s the big deal? Well, quite a few folks are selling “ATCs” on eBay, which has spawned much discussion. The pro camp says, rightly, that people can do whatever they want with the art they create. The con camp says, also rightly, that selling ATCs undermines the purpose of ATCs and goes against the originator’s intent. While I would personally not support an artist who sold ATCs, it is their right to do so.

Of greater concern to me is the possibility that ATCs that have been traded to others will be sold and resold. As artists trade ATCs with the understanding that they will not be sold, I think it constitutes a breach of contract to turn around and sell an ATC that was received in trade. I think that doing so is mercenary, dishonest, and exploitative.


I also seem to be plagued by assberets who cannot read for comprehension. There’s nothing so irritating to me as making a point, then having someone respond to that point with something completely irrelevant to the point. What are they teaching in schools these days?


A few days ago, in another group, someone asked why there was a dearth of African or African-American imagery in the crafting community. I responded that I didn’t think there was a shortage of such imagery (just Google for African American quilts). I’m sure all the African American artists, artisans, and craftsmen would be surprised to know that their works don’t exist. Even more so all the artists in Africa.

But, that apparently wasn’t her real question. She actually wanted to know why more whites weren’t incorporating African or African American imagery in their art. M’kay.

I don’t feel a burning need to incorporate African or African American imagery in my own art. My art tends to be about me and my experiences. I also don’t know anything about what it feels like to be African American, much less African, so I’m not likely to address it in my art. I do use a wider variety of imagery in my gluebooks, but I consider gluebooks to be separate from my other art. Pretty much all the imagery in my gluebooks comes from magazines, books, etc. so I use what I have. (Thank you, though, to the kind soul who informed me that Egypt is in Africa. Who knew?!)

What sent me over the edge, and finally prompted me to unsubscribe from the group, was when the original poster made a comment that “we” should explore different cultures and that “we” should incorporate more design elements from other cultures in our artwork. If the concern is, as she claimed, to gain cultural understanding through exploring African American artistic styles, then that seems to me to be reducing the African American Experience (as if there’s just the one) to a design element. (Pardon me while I vomit.)

  1. She doesn’t know bupkis about me and my culture, so she can hardly know what my experience with “other cultures” might be.
  2. Why do I, as an artist, have any sort of responsibility to address cultural differences or racial issues?
  3. Talking about African Americans as if they’re from a different planet is probably not the best way to go about engendering racial harmony and mutual understanding.
  4. Reducing an entire group of people to a design element is exploitative
  5. Instead of exploiting African Americans, which is what I feel the OP was encouraging, why not first educate yourselves enough to know why the entire discussion, as it unfolded, might be offensive?

The final straw, though, was that I received an e-mail from someone wanting to know if I’d be interested in an “ancestor swap.” I didn’t answer her, because I was gobsmacked. I have no idea how to reply to something like that. My ancestors are mine, mine, mine and I’m not inclined to share them. If you want to acquire fake ancestors, buy a box of orphaned ones at a flea market.

No, I lied. The final, final straw was the way everyone went around patting themselves on the back for having such a sensitive, understanding, thoughtful discussion. Okaythen.


A Quick Word About ATCs

I was gently reminded this evening that I’d neglected to explain what on Urth ATCs are. Oops! ATCs are artist trading cards. They’re small, original artworks that are made to be given away or traded. Based on popular mass produced trading cards, ATCs always measure 3.5 x 2.5 inches. They’re a fun way for artists to swap and collect each other’s artwork.

Although the original intention was that artists would meet in person to trade ATCs, many on-line art communities hold frequent ATC swaps. Often there is a theme, such as the dark Valentine inspired “tainted love” ATC swap I recently participated in.

Art in Your Pocket: ATCs
Artist Trading Cards

Altered Photos, Art, Ladybusiness

Tainted Love: A Series of ATCs

ATC:  Baubo Takes the Bull by the Horns

ATC:  Baubo and Cycladic Head Find Love in a Feather Bed

ATC:  Baubo Cruises the Love Boat

ATC:  Sympathetic Magic 1

ATC:  Sympathetic Magic 2
1. Baubo Takes Love by the Horns
2. Baubo and Cycladic Head Find Love in a Feather Bed
3. Baubo Cruises the Love Boat
4. Sympathetic Magic 1
5. Sympathetic Magic 2

Technical notes:
One of the art groups I play in decided to do a special Dark Valentine ATC swap. I had some ideas that revolved around Hollywood sex sirens, but they all seemed a bit flat. I was going through a box of photos I’d taken years ago for a project I haven’t really gotten to yet: Baubo’s Safari. I thought some of them would be perfect for this swap, so I pulled out a few of them and set them on my coffee table to contemplate. I figured that if I looked at them long enough, inspiration would hit. And it did.

I sanded and scratched up the surfaces. For the one 35mm photo, I was able to entirely sand away extraneous bits I didn’t want included. Polaroid film isn’t as easily manipulated, but I found that if I sanded off the binding tape around the edges, I could remove the film from the emulsion layer. I really like the way these turned out. (If you try this at home, I’d suggest wearing gloves and a face mask and dispose of the emulsion layer very carefully! It contains some pretty toxic chemicals that you don’t want to breathe or worse, have your pets chew on or eat.)

The photo layer of a Polaroid is a thin piece of plastic, so it presents a challenge when trying to adhere it to something else. I’d decided to use an old deck of Harly Davidson playing cards as my ATC base. The cards are highly plasticized, and even though I’d sanded them thoroughly, I didn’t think I could get a good bond between the card and the film. I decided to use a mechanical fastener–eyelets–instead.

So, who is Baubo and why did I choose her to represent tainted love? Baubo is a goddess of womanly humor and knowledge; of obscene laughter and bawdy jokes; of the belly and the vulva.

Baubo played an important part in the story of Demeter and Persephone. When Demeter–goddess of ripe grain; of fruition and harvest–lost her daughter to Hades, she wandered the earth in deep mourning. Demeter took an oath that the earth would remain barren until Persephone was returned to her. The crops died and the earth turned barren. It was as if ceaseless winter had fallen on the land.

In deep despair, Demeter travels to Eleusis, where she retires from the world. Baubo meets her there and intercedes, telling bawdy jokes and then, the unthinkable: Baubo flashes Demeter. By lifting up her skirts and showing her belly and vulva to Demeter, Baubo shocks Demeter and causes her to laugh. Demeter regains hope and decides to carry on her search for her daughter. In the meantime, she reclaims her duties in making the crops and vegetation grow. Abundance returned to the earth.

Sympathetic Magic:
These two images should be self-explanatory. They are funerary urns from the Bura People of Lake Chad, Niger. They’re shaped like huge penises (3-4′ tall) and are covered with scarification patterns.