In a recent Facebook post, Clayton Lord, vice president of American for the Arts and “Counting New Beans” blogger, posed an interesting thought exercise regarding two different means of replication:
an app that lets you see and zoom in on fine artworks, and a 3D printing company advertising $20,000 reproductions of fine artworks that are accurate to the placement of strokes and thickness of paint. I somehow react differently to those ideas even though they’re both not-the-original…I wonder why. Is one a more appropriate use of new tech than the other for preserving the virtuosity of the art?
The online discussion that ensued happened to be coincident with the first week of the semester when I often find the class discussion focuses on the age-old question “what makes art art?” In my arts entrepreneurship class, that question tends to focus on why artistic products are different from commodities in any other sector around which one might build a business. In the arts management class the question is similar: in what ways is the management of an arts organization different than the management of a shoe factory? Or any other firm that exists to produce and distribute its product?
I am passionate about this question because, to put it in non-academic terms, I feel deeply in my heart that the artistic process and artistic product is indeed different from an iPhone app or a pair of shoes. Fortunately, there is academic study of this question in fields from philosophy (aesthetics) to pyschology to economics. Yes, economics. I am drawn repeatedly to Richard Caves’ 2000 study, Creative Industries. Unlike the construction of the “creative industries” as it is understood in the UK and Europe via industry codes and classifications, Caves focuses on the US and describes six characteristics of work in and of the creative sector, at least two of which are particularly relevant to Clay’s thought exercise:
- Creative workers care about their product. “In creative activities…the creator cares vitally about the originality displayed, the technical prowess demonstrated, the resolution and harmony achieved in the creative act.”
- Differentiated products. “No two are identical”…“While creative possibilities are always abundant, creative realizations are not”
My initial response to Clay was, “It seems that the first (the iPhone app) is a way of closely examining and understanding the original while the second is a copy of the original and therefore a potential diminishment of it.”
Nina Simon, of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz and the Museum 2.0 blog, suggested, “Our obsession with “the real artifact” is itself an artifact of its time,” and referenced plaster replicas of statues on display in museums in the nineteenth century. I maintain that those replicas and the $20,000 replica in Clay’s example are an important means for distribution of art but is not the art itself. I continued,
The issue is not one of scarcity, but of originality and intention. The display of plaster casts (some of which are still on display in museums) was driven by geogpraphy and lack of transportation. Viewers knew that they were seeing a plaster replica and appreciated it in the same way one appreciates a digital print of “Starry Night.” 3D printing will enable us to appreciate a better print, but the artist’s hand will still be missing.
What do you think?
(image: Van Gogh’s Starry Night via the Google Art Project)