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Old 09-06-2018, 06:29 PM
8,218 posts, read 8,495,554 times
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Is this a good idea? Or does it cheapen the experience of the original?

The Factory of Fakes
How a workshop uses digital technology to craft perfect copies of imperilled art

By Daniel Zalewski
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Old 09-18-2018, 09:24 AM
Location: Old Mother Idaho
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I'm of two minds about this.
I think copies can cheapen the experience of seeing the original sometimes, but not always.

It used to be fairly common for beginning artists to go to a museum and paint copies of a favorite painting or one that was challenging to them, and for a viewer who can see both the copy and the original, the experience can be instructive.

The master and the apprentice; a viewer who watches the copyist can see where he's having trouble trying to execute something that is subtle or needs some delicate brushwork and then can see how the master did the same with greater skill. This can make a viewer appreciate the master's work more.

All art, whether drawings, paintings, sculpture or whatever, always displays the thousands of small decisions of the artist's mind. There's a choice made in every stroke, and how those choices are made, combined with the physical limits of the painter's body, combine to make any artwork what it is.

No person is ever exactly alike. Each mind is unique, as is each body. A copyist won't ever be able to replicate an original perfectly, and no machine can. There are too many tiny decisions and tiny body movements to ever make perfection possible.

The humanity always combines with the tools and materials, and while those may be able to reproduce perfectly, it is extremely difficult.
Old paintings, for example, may have paints made of materials modern paint makers simply cannot use any more, and careful formulas that made old paint are often lost to time. So each difference does make a difference in a copy. The passage of time also makes a huge difference, even in modern materials.

Machines always have many more limits than the human body. A human painter can improvise with his materials; if his paint is too thick, he can easily thin it a tiny bit, and knows what the best thinner will be, but machines cannot make those decisions, and always have limits as to how they can apply paint, what kind of paint they can apply, that humans don't have.

So the difference between human and machine are always apparent when compared to a human-made original. When machines do part of the work, there is always a point when a human has to take over to make the copy closer to the original. And each human is always different.

Good copies do serve good purposes. Comparison is one, and can be very interesting and instructive. Another is good copies can expose good art to viewers who will never be able to see the original in their lifetimes.

A good copy can give a view some of the emotional experience of the original, and while it may not be as powerful as the original, someone who never sees anything but the copy still can enjoy it because they will never know the difference in the power.
Copies can also travel when delicate old works cannot, so many more people can experience artwork that cannot ever be seen by large numbers of folks. This is especially true with your example; Egyptian tomb art is delicate, ancient, and was never intended to be seen by anyone other than the dead king.

Cathedral artwork was never intended to be seen anywhere but on or in one building. Each is a unique, complete experience of its own, and viewing only a piece will never replicate the emotion of the original.

Another thing about copies is they are all originals to the copyist. So they too are each unique. A copyist can possess greater talent and ability as the painter he copies, and there are copies that are actually better than the originals as a result.

The same is true with modern materials. We know more about materials than our ancestors, so many times, a new tool is inherently better than an old tool, and new paint is better than old paint in doing the job it was made to do.

So a good copy becomes a re-generation of an old painting oftentimes- a re-birth of sorts. A copy is like a baby, with many years ahead of it, while an original is an old man, with his best years behind him. This is as true with a 20-year time span as it is a 200-year time span. Age begins its work as soon as a painting is finished.

Art restoration is always a combination of original and copy. Things like oxidation and decay begin instantly, as soon as a piece is finished, so all artwork becomes what it is at the time it is seen. Whether the artwork is 'improved' by cleaning and restoration is not necessarily always a better viewing experience than seeing the old art.

Time does create marvelous effects on artwork. A painter's view of his creation may be much different from his viewers. Age can add elements to a work the work lacked when it was new.

I have very mixed feelings about restoration. Art is like architecture; some old buildings are best left alone and so is some art. But when a beautiful old building or painting is falling apart, I think its better to rehabilitate it even if restoration changes it. And a beautiful new copy can be just as beautiful as a restoration in its own ways because it is completely new.

So I can't answer your question, but I'm not sure a copy cheapens a viewer's experience. Like many things in life, it all depends.
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