Jeff Ward’s “Cloud Gate: Challenging Reproducibility”

This is where we’ll talk about  Jeff Ward’s “Cloud Gate: Challenging Reproducibility.” This is another essay I’ve taught several times before and while it might seem like a bit of a tangent, I do think it’s a really interesting story/illustration of the complexities of copyright law.

“Cloud Gate” (aka “The Bean”) is a sculpture in downtown Chicago– kind of near the Art Institute and the “Miracle Mile” shopping area off of Michigan Avenue, if you’re at all familiar with that area. Just a couple thoughts to get you going:

First, I think Ward does a pretty good job of describing just how complicated these issues are, the fuzzy line between what is protected by copyright and what is fair use, and even between what is public and what is private.  As this fairly short but complex article suggests, the reasons why copyright and fair use laws aren’t particularly clear is because the defining terms are slippery.

Second, I find Ward’s closing thoughts on the nature of this particular piece of art to be quite interesting– I’m not sure in terms of fair use/copyright or not, but interesting nonetheless.  In the last paragraph, he points out that postcards of Cloud Gate have not sold particularly well because “Visitors prefer to photograph their own reflections, to image and imagine themselves in Cloud Gate” (74). That certainly was my experience, as this “selfie” from a couple years ago might suggest:

11 thoughts on “Jeff Ward’s “Cloud Gate: Challenging Reproducibility”

  1. Molly McCord

    So I never knew the actual name of the sculpture until I read this article. I have always just known it as “The Bean.” I think Ward makes an interesting point when he notes that “There is nothing aside from respect to prevent false labeling of the sculpture. There is no law against it” (66). I suppose it would be difficult to regulate the words that people use to describe something like this sculpture, but it also seems like it could be pretty difficult to distinguish between “professional” (permit requiring) and “amateur” (non-permit requiring) photographers, as the article points out. This is another example of the complex nature of copyright and fair use involving images rather than text.

    1. Lisa Pignotti

      Molly, I didn’t know Cloud Gate was the actual title of the work either :)

      One point that really struck me from this article was the quote by Melissa Mathis:
      “Nonetheless, monuments are perhaps our most cherished works of public art. There is a unique reciprocity in such works that is absent from the other fine arts: they exist for the public and by the public. This relationship is one that must be recognized by our copyright law. It is also, however, one that must be understood by the authors of such works” (qtd in Ward 73).

      Public art often becomes symbolic of various places, people, or ideas. They are a part of the culture and by “copyrighting” such works, is kind of ridiculous. The way to “solve” this issue, as Mathis suggests, is to make sure that artist’s understand the terms of public artwork prior to creating it for a public space.

    2. Danielle

      I agree with Molly and Dr. Krause both that this is a great example of just how complex copyright issues can get. There are lots of blurred lines and slippery terms. To be honest, I think it’s kind of ridiculous for an artist to get upset about what kinds of terminology people use to label a piece of art (especially one in a public space). Isn’t all art meant to be interpreted? Do songwriters get upset when people listen to a song and interpret something differently than the artist’s original meaning?

      And the only reason I knew the “official” name of this sculpture was because I read this last year for another class, but I still refer to it as “the bean” anyway. 😛

      1. Jonathan Furlette

        I didn’t know that “Cloud Gate” was the title of this sculpture, but it is an interestingly prophetic title to the court rulings and defining of our own rights for expression that followed. I love the reference to Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction;” this sculpture has further pushed the envelope to a better understanding of what is legally reproducible, both for the sake of artistic exploration and for profit. It is interesting to look at the correlation between the advancement of technology and the definition of what is allowable as an artist and what means of artistic representation that brings about profit are legally acceptable. What is “common” between us all in terms of technology rapidly changes (more than it ever has) which makes the differentiation between original thought even more difficult. As we have more technologies at our disposal and even more ways to present/display our findings, the idea behind what is “public” and what is “private,” “copyrightable” and “un-copyrightable” becomes more slippery by the day. As artists strive to create new things that speak about our current situation, the incorporation and “symphony” of these mediums is always changing. It is up to the artist to figure out a way to use everything at our disposal in a way never previously imagined.

        1. Danielle

          You bring up a good point, Jonathan, about technology making it increasingly difficult to pinpoint the origins of a work. A lot of art these days is created using media that’s already out there. I’m thinking specifically of re-mix videos on YouTube. Furthermore, when you create something in, say, Photoshop, you may use pre-loaded brushes, fonts, and tools to make it happen. These tools were all created by other people, yet they’re used to make new art all the time.

      2. Molly McCord

        You make an interesting point about interpretation of art, Danielle. An artist really can’t “control” how others feel or think about his/her work, and subjectivity seems like a natural part of the art world. It certainly seems like tricky business trying to deal with copyright (with its boundaries) and artwork (with its seemingly limitless interpretations).

  2. Seth Taylor

    Like many of you, I also take a kind of New Historicism view on finished works of art. I think once it’s unveiled to the public, they, and the culture in general, pretty much take over the process of interpretation and the discourse surrounding it. But I can certainly understand the frustration an artist must feel, when they have a specific vision for a work, and that vision isn’t really received or appreciated by the public.

    I was never aware of the photography restrictions at Millennium. It’s hard to imagine that those restrictions were once enforced. Now, on any given day in Millennium Park, Cloud Gate is surrounded by people with tripods and other ‘professional looking’ equipment, using the sculpture as a backdrop to photos, films, music videos, and news footage. I certainly agree with Ward that The Bean provides a prime locus for this kind of discussion and debate.

    1. skrause Post author

      Yeah, I’m not sure that the restrictions that Ward talks about in this essay are still in effect. I think it’s possible that the City of Chicago either gave up or there was some kind of court ruling saying that you can’t prevent these kinds of photos of a public piece of art. I might have to look that one up.

      Anyway, what Seth says here about the artist being frustrated and annoyed about the vision not being appreciated makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, “The Bean” is a whole lot less dignified and artistic than “Cloud Gate.”

      1. Jennifer

        I’m a big believer that art is made for the audience, not the artist and I guess I think it’s something of a vanity on the part of the artist to be disappointed that the audience does not interpret a work the way the ARTIST intended it. Why make art? If one wants to “stamp”his or her feelings, interpretations, goals and ideas on an audience, why not become a politician instead of an artist?

        1. Danielle

          Jennifer, I agree completely (and I made a similar point in a comment above). Sure, it’s not as “dignified” as the artist’s original title, but if you create a unique sculpture that’s in a public space, how can you get mad about people labeling it with their own terminology? It seems like that’s something that should be expected as an artist.

      2. Lisa Pignotti

        I can see the artists frustration, too. The fact that many of us hadn’t even heard of the actual title is pretty telling. I wonder where the “bean” name started? It’s a lot more fun to say than Cloud Gate, but it does impact the interpretation of the work. I look at it differently now that I know what the title is.


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