The Reproduction Of Art

Almost all Art today is reproduced and we are happy to receive it that way.  We have perfected (almost) the experience of the original into that of the multiple.  But it wasn’t always that way.  Art itself – paintings especially were reserved for the rich; but there was plenty of Art in churches, and a few statues in large towns.  But many people drew and painted for their own joy; you didn’t need too much money really.  And when printed books became available it wasn’t long before illustrations appeared – but it was really the invention of photography which enabled Art to be reproduced.  Though I have found that there is nothing quite like seeing the originals to take your breath away.  And surprisingly the thing which affects me most is the size.  We are used to seeing books of reproduction, or computer images of a standard size.  The Seurat of ‘Les Baigneuses’ in the National Gallery is massive.  It takes up a whole wall and is amazing.  Likewise in the Orangerie in Paris, Monet’s Waterlillies is in two purpose built oval rooms and extends right round the walls, the observer sitting in the middle and surrounded by huge waterlilies, which on closer inspection are broad brush strokes of vivid colour which somehow coalesces into recognisable form as you retreat.  No reproductions can begin to do them justice.  Likewise sculpture is almost un-reproducible, there is nothing like Michelangelo’s ‘David’, all copies look just like that.  And the strange rounded figures of Henry Moore look quite silly in photographs but are imposing in reality.

Cinema took off in the early Twentieth Century, and suddenly stories could be shown, much like on the Stage at first.  But Cinema has taken on a life of its own, with it’s images ever more wondrous (and for me, with CGI, ever more pointless).  And even here now this is reproduced on DVD (itself a dying format) and able to be streamed onto your very own screen shortly after being released.

Music became reproduced in the last Century too.  And of course, this is how I mostly hear Music.  Though there is really nothing like hearing music live; we are lucky here in SW France, as there is plenty of excellent live music.  And now we have Spotify and other services streaming anything you like onto your phone and right into your very own headphones.  An Alladin’s lamp indeed.  Although I cannot quite accept it, and still like to own at least a first generation reproduction and spend an inordinate amount of money on CDs.  I like to see them on the (many) shelves, in Alphabetical order; I sometimes run my fingers over their serried ranks, almost hearing snatches of them as my fingers drift past.

What the future will hold as computer technology increases is almost unfathomable.  Real 3D reproductions may be available, with ‘real’ actors in our sitting rooms maybe, or immersing us in the very landscape of the painting, or us being and actor in a film – who knows?  But there will still be nothing quite like the real thing; though whether we will still be able to tell the difference is another thing.