Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Why Reproductions are Legitimate Art

Here is a company that sells high-quality reproductions that are good enough for your church or icon corner. Check it out! www.catholicartcompany.com. Their focus appears to be art in the Western tradition of naturalism, with some Gothic art as well.

I was asked to feature this site by those who have recently launched it, and am happy do so, and particularly on this occasion; by coincidence, I have just recently been discussing with friends whether or not we should encourage the purchase of reproductions of sacred art, so catholicartcompany.com gives me an opportunity to raise this subject. The site itself promotes their products as art for the home, but I would go further and say that, in principle, I am very open to the idea that reproductions can be used in church too.

Some might be surprised that I am so much in favor of the use of art prints and reproductions, given my interest as well in the re-establishment of Catholic traditions of sacred art as a living tradition. In fact, I see no contraction between promoting a website that sells reproductions and promoting the training of artists capable of creating original works of art that can inspire faith and prayer today. In fact, I would go further than that and suggest that a demand for good art, whether led by offering originals or reproductions, will benefit the sales of both... and add to the well being of the world incalculably through the prayer that it will inspire.

Briefly, here are my reasons:

Art is as good as it looks. If you look at a painting and you can’t tell if it is a reproduction, then it doesn’t matter if it is an original or not. With modern methods of reproduction, this is becoming possible. Even if you can tell the difference, it doesn’t automatically mean that it is inferior to the original. Sometimes, the process of reproduction can be controlled so that it creates a distinct work of art that is better than the original. In such a case, the one who is reproducing is contributing to the creative process. In this regard, sculpture is an art form in which reproduction, through casts, has been part of the creative process for centuries. Many of the statues we see in the church or public square are not only not the original sculpture, but they are also composed of new composite materials that imitate the old, such as bronze resin. No one suggests that this compromises the creative process. Just because this wasn’t the case with paintings in the past, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be now.

I am not pushing for a lowering of standards here; I am arguing that if high standards and good judgment are used at all stages in the creation of an image, whether the process is traditional or recently invented, then good art will result.

Even if it is the case, in your judgment, that reproductions can’t match originals, and that technology is not as powerful as I suggest, there are still good reasons to have them in church. I would rather have an attractively framed and well-chosen reproduction than an ugly and badly painted original. I do not believe there is any moral imperative to support artists by buying paintings we don’t like or which are inferior to those of the past. If we aim for quality, that will force artists to up their game and create new work that matches the quality of the past. We know this can be done. Contemporary Eastern Christians, led by Russians, Greeks, and Copts, have had great success as artists through the sheer quality of their work, which is as good today as the great iconographic art of the past. When artists meet this standard, they have the edge over any reproduction of past works, no matter how well reproduced or how brilliant the original. Only contemporary artists of today can create work that simultaneously participates in traditional forms, and meets the distinctive needs of the Christian community of today. This is precisely what the modern iconographers have worked out. By creating icons in styles that were previously unimagined, but which nevertheless conform to tradition, they have created a demand for icons that didn’t previously exist there before. Beauty does this.

I would go further and say that the possibility of selling reproductions creates opportunities for artists to increase their earnings that were not available to artists in the past. On the whole, any business that offers higher quality products at a lower price than their competitors makes more money, not less. The consumer, in this case, is the pious Catholic who prays with the imagery. If the artist serves this need, then he will sell reproductions. This also becomes a promotional tool for originals which will become sought-after items. I would recommend that artists look at offering reproductions of their work. I think of the Catholic artist Jim Gillick here, who told me that every month he gets a significant income stream from reproductions ordered from his website, and a Gillick original sells for more in the galleries of London than any other artist that I know personally.

The moment that an artist blames the market or the Church for not commissioning his work, or suggests that we should buy originals as a duty in order to support artists, and not because we like their work, that tells me his work isn’t good enough.

As a final recommendation for looking at this site, I will give you the following screenshot:

No Divine Mercy images, thank goodness!

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