Friday, June 25, 2010

Are Reproductions Legitimate Art?

If we are going to have a new epiphany of beauty then someone has to pay for it. It would be nice to think that there will be growing market for original works, but at the moment very few artists receive prices for their work that correspond to an hourly rate of even a plumber or a kitchen fitter. Why is this? I believe that beauty creates its own market. The price I receive corresponds to the perception of its value. So if I want to stimulate demand for my art, I should strive to be a better artist and make it more beautiful. If people like it enough they will be prepared to pay more for it. If they don’t want to buy it then it probably isn’t good enough. Marketing is important too but I am pretty sure that if a new Velazquez popped up, word would get around pretty quickly and people would be hammering at his door.

I have thought about other ways to try to sell my work in today’s marketplace. It had occurred to me that perhaps a way to make it pay would be through high quality reproductions. I could aim for a lower priced product and a higher volume of sales. With the quality of photographic reproductive techniques nowadays, it could be a way of making good art affordable to many.

Assuming that reproductions will sell, however, it does raise another issue. Is the sacramental nature of a reproduction of sacred art less than an original? Instinctively one feels so. But reading the theology of St Theodore the Studite, it would seem not. For Theodore, the great theologian whose work closed the iconoclastic period of AD853 says that what gives an icon its sacramental power is the captured likeness of the individual portrayed. If the likeness goes, then does the icon. It is reduced to wood, gold, paint and has no value beyond the price of the materials from which it is composed. This seems to imply that provided the reproduction is good and the characteristics of the saint in question are passed on from original to reproduction then, other things being equal , then it is legitimate to pray with reproduced, even mass reproduced, images.

In fact, I think there is no need for a defensive attitude to reproductions. Rather than assuming that we should aim to have as little change as possible between original and its copy, I think it would be an idea to consider reproduction as an authentic part of the creative process. It is conceivable that it could be manipulated to enhance the beauty of the original. One could even envisage the best artists would be able to understand the visual changes that take place during the reproduction process and paint so that the final reproduction corresponds to his idea, rather than the ‘original’.

I have worked recently on two illustrated books for children and, out of respect for me I think, the publishers were very keen to have an accurate reproduction that deviated as little as possible from my original. However, my attitude was that no one who reads the book is going to see the originals, and it really doesn’t matter if there is a difference. Provided that the final version is beautiful and does the job required of it on the page, then I will be happy.

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