What is this, October!? According to a blog post published by a disgruntled parent of a student, the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) is forcing students to buy an art history book for $180 — which wouldn’t be unheard of, but the catch is that the publishers of this book didn’t get any of the image rights for the artwork it includes. To reiterate, that’s an art history survey without any pictures. WTF?

Instead of having pictures of artwork, the book, Global Visual and Material Culture: Prehistory to 1800 (so named for the course it goes with), instead just has placeholders with instructions to see a digital version for the actual image. It’s like a website with only broken image links. Just check out this hilarious sample page from the book:

An excerpt page from the pictureless textbook (courtesy ashleyit.com)

At first, it seemed that the publisher couldn’t clear the copyright permissions before the book’s print run. But as it turns out, the book is actually a zombie-like combination of parts of three different art history books. A letter from the school’s dean stated that had they decided to clear all the images for copyright to print, the book would have cost a whopping $800.

The disgruntled parent complains,I’m not particularly interested in paying any amount for an imageless art history textbook.” We’re inclined to agree. In the context, OCAD’s faux-inspiring slogan of “imagination is everything” takes on a whole new meaning. Don’t have any pictures of art? Just imagine them all!

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...

14 replies on “Art School Tells Students to Buy Pictureless $180 Art History Book”

  1. Why didn’t they just commission an art historian to create an online text with links to the appropriate works? All you art historians out there, I see an entrepreneurial opportunity.

      1. I hear you, Hrag. The students od contemporary art should read blogazines as part of their coursework.
        But think of the art history website that could be created (over time) with links to the art, music, fashion, literature and politics of the time. There could be links to critical writing, to blogazines and blogs, to museum websites, to music videos.
        I’ll bet there would be grant money somewhere for a project like that. I’m serious, art historians. Pick a century and then keep going.

    1. i’m also kind of surprised – sure we bought textbooks at scad (an easy bargain on the used market) but we also had access to online libraries of high res images through.. well, the library. I also had a similar service available to me through MAs public library system. why require people to buy a book that points you to online images?

  2. I have second-hand art books each with hundreds of black-and-white illustrations and dozens in colour. I paid about $10 for each (including Larousse Encyclopedia of Modern Art) but that was a few years back. Even today, used art books at a higher cost are a wonderful bargain. I feel sorry for the students at the Ontario College of Art and Design. At least if those stupid place-holders were shrunk to only an inch or two each, then there would be more room for useful text, or a saving of paper that would lower the cost of the book.

  3. I heard David Antin give a lecture about the presidential monuments of Washington DC without any slides. Conjuring them up from memory was better some how, all so well known.

  4. Yes, far better than just using one of the numerous existing text books that cost less and actually have pictures.

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