Art textbook with no art: school trying to fix it

Earlier this week, I wrote about a custom textbook for a course in art history from prehistory to 1800 that had been assigned to students at the Ontario College of Art and Design at a price of $180, which was to be delivered without any artwork in it, thanks to a dispute over copyright clearances.

After an uproar from students and parents, the school met with students and is revisiting its decision to publish and require this book. Sarah Mulholland from OCAD writes that "Dean Shailer has sent an update letter to students this morning with some very good news as a result of her meeting with the publisher yesterday afternoon, which followed the student forum discussion."

The dean's letter is on the school's website (PDF). Here's an excerpt:

I met later in the afternoon with reps from Pearson – including the President of the Higher Education Division of Pearson Canada, Steve O’Hearn – and from the U of T/OCADU Bookstore, as well as a number of other OCAD U faculty and staff. We laid out the concerns and asked for solutions. Pearson was highly responsive and proposed offering:

• Guaranteed end-of-term buy-back of the custom text (dollar amount to be announced next week); they want to take it out of circulation.

• Provision (free) of print copies of the Stokstad text (which contains the vast majority of missing images) to all students who have purchased the reader, to use as a print-based cross-reference; these would be the relevant volumes of the portable version of Stokstad (much easier to carry) – details on how this will roll out next week.

For next semester (LBST 1B05), we will have two possible scenarios that we’d like to poll students on. In any case there will be NO EMPTY BLOCKS OF WHITE SPACE. And for future offerings (next year and beyond): we will wait until March and further feedback from all of you before making any decisions. We’d like to present all this to interested students as soon as possible and are scheduling a second meeting for next Tuesday afternoon. If you cannot attend, please get in touch and let me know your thoughts.

Here's the notice of the followup meeting.

(Thanks, Sarah!)


  1. Is OCAD a state institution or a private, for-profit art school?

    I would love for a journalist to seriously examine the thought process of the decision-makers involved who initially thought that was a feasible notion.  The people who saw all the realities beforehand and decided, “yeah, that will work.”

    Basically, “What. Were. They. Thinking?”

    1. Where by “state” you mean “province,” since this is Canada. It’s a combination of federal and provincial funding and yes, OCAD is a public institution.
      (Some day I’ll bring myself to say “OCAD University.” That day is not today.)

      1. Unless they’re using “state” as a synonym for government, in which case it’s being used correctly regardless of where the events are happening.

        1. Given that Mr. Holmen’s location is listed as Dallas, TX, I feel my interpretation was more reasonable than the rather uncommon synonym for “government” you propose.

    2. Pearson has an army of sales reps who meet with institutions and hard-sell these custom editions. It makes them a fortune because it grants the campus bookstore a monopoly and they can charge more money for the custom (often printed to subpar standards) than the original it’s based upon. 
      The books had already been printed for them, so the university likely had the choice of going ahead with it and maintaining their extortionate monopolism, or turning it down and having to actually use a textbook the students can buy at fair market value elsewhere.

      Being familiar with Pearson I guarantee you that not only were these books not illustrated at all, but they were also probably badly bound paperbacks with pages printed on thin, translucent paper the fragile likes of which you’ve probably never seen before. Most of them were probably also at least cosmetically damaged while being bound, and were sold anyway.

  2. I read Cory’s article on this from earlier this week, and thought maybe it was some “meta” way for professors to address the state of the commodified Art-welt NOW – you’ll have to do some digging online to see that stuff, sorry about the $180, but wait till we discuss Warhol, 20th century art forgeries, the 1980s and the rise of the $40 million dollar paintings by Masters, bought by bankers and kept in vaults as investments, Jeff Koons, etc, etc…then I realized this weed was REALLY good.

  3. Art books don’t necessarily need much art in them. One of the most highly regarded books on photography, On Photography, by Susan Sontag, had no photos in it at all. Of course, it’s only $4.68 on Amazon, but still…

    1. Maybe the school publishing such a book is performance art. Clearly, the parents make an engaged audience.

  4. Haw haw, I hadn’t known that they actually included space for the art that wasn’t included! “Insert your own Reubens here.”

    Also: LOL @ pdf letter.

  5. OCAD is a public university (there are no private universities in Canada).
    Next door, at the University of Toronto, we had a memo from the dean this week reminding us that it is against university policy to make the purchase of any materials (books, clickers, whatever) mandatory for students – i.e. we should not be using mandatory purchases as a backdoor way of adding to tuition fees. Presumably the memo was a reaction to the flack OCADU is getting over this.

  6. One of the worst examples of text design I’ve ever seen was in my “Rhetoric of Print Design” textbook. And I don’t mean mistakes; I mean page-long solid blocks of small-print text for tens of pages. Whitespace? Who could afford all that white ink?!
    I think the 500-page book had maybe two illustrations.

  7. tl;dr version:
    “backpedal, backpedal, backpedal.  placating angry students.  placating angry internet.  absolutely no admission that we were involved in a blatantly insane rip-off.”

  8. I know someone that did some work for a local Scientology office (freelancers need money too) and they gave the person a book on L Ron Hubbard’s dictions on art. Naturally, it was hundreds of pages of psychotic drek with zero images. It ended up in the garbage before the person made it around the block, which is a shame, because that stuff makes GREAT coffee table books.

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