The following is an attempt to grasp the contemporary wide spread disregard for copies and glimpse into a world of future copying, therefore also a world of future originality.
In a study by Angelika Seidel and Jesse Prinz at CUNY (the City University of New York) the researchers told test subjects to imagine that the Mona Lisa was destroyed in a fire, but that there happened to be a perfect copy that even experts couldn’t tell from the original. If they could see just one or the other, would they rather see the ashes of the original Mona Lisa or a perfect duplicate? Eighty per cent of the respondents chose the ashes. That is to illustrate the state of our almost obsession with originals and hate for copies. But this wasn’t always the case. Romans used to copy Greek art, in particular sculptures at an unprecedented rate and that was not regarded as forgery. There are countless roman copies of roman sculptures too – and with each copy a different concept comes to life. So how did we end up here? And where do we go from here – with the rise of digital technology and digital artworks – where is the boundary between original and copy? And when is it a copy we are talking about and when an instance of an object.
To answer these questions I traced back the history of copying in parallel to the history of artistic creation. I compared different art epochs according to several parameters in order to detect when and why copying became equal to forgery.
skill / technique – in Ancient Greek there is no word for art as we know it. The word they used to describe art was techne, or what we call today craft. For the point of art was depicting something so beautifully, crafting it, so that it inspires you to live up to that beauty in your life. Sculptures were copied all over the empire, specially ones who stood on famed places in Rome, because with a replica of the sculpture, they were replicating the glory of the place. Art for the sake of art, for the sake of beauty.
concept / story telling – art in religion dominated the larger period from the fall of the Roman Empire (partially even during the rule of Rome) and the main point of that art was to deliver to the minds and the hearts of the spectators the idea of the all mightiness of god. Copies were highly welcome, because then the message could be spread further. Of course there were strong restrictions and lack of freedom for self interpretation, but nevertheless the concept of admiration for the pure original was virtually unknown. Since the main goal of art was to represent a story or character, its content was in the center of the matter.
authorship – in Renaissance everything changes. Ideas from Ancient Greece and ancient Rome come back to life, but this time, they have a single genius author. The personality both in experiencing art and also in creating it takes central position and so it remains pretty much until today. From objective art turns deeply subjective, even more so in the eras to come. Art becomes a personal indulgence.
It is fascinating that once an known author is involved, the desire to acquire his/her own personal work appears. Now to understand what is to become of authorship and originals in the future, I look back to an event that even though is in the past, quite resembles our current situation of booming new technology, sudden overflow of information and sudden availability of many many instances of one and the same artwork from the same author – namely the rise of the printed press. In the late 15th century printed books began to replace manuscripts and it caused a revolution, much like the revolution we live today. Suddenly books were not reserved only to the scholars to be read in libraries and monasteries, now the first pocket books were on the rise. They spread so fast, publishing all the way from classics, to contemporary authors and fast became something of a status symbol.
The curious thing however is that even though printed books were product of a machine and therefore symbolizing progress, the clients insisted upon an individual marking – for each book was to be proof-read by the author himself or the publisher and if there would be some mistakes found it is of utmost honor if they are corrected by the hand of the creator. Depending on the status of the client, the book had also different layout and was decorated to varying extends – preferably by hand. These books were precious because they were one of a kind, special in the then revolutionary way they were produced, but also for their absolute originality – there is until today, no second like them.
With time passing and the printing technology and economy developing further, printed books came into the life of all classes and soon individual marking lost importance. The value of the book went back to its content, rather to its artificial originality while not lessening in any way the importance of its author. And although today we pride ourselves with the signature of the writer on the front page, a copy of a book is just as much original as any other.
Maybe that is also to become of future sculptures – instead of handcrafted, a 3D model will be printed by many “publishers”, will be behold in many corners of the world and every instance will be just as original – it will be an expression of the artist, but moreover, an expression of an idea, of an experience, of a thought. Maybe the boom of digital technology will once more shift our focus and definition of art, this time away from possessive authorship and towards of a new era of artistic exploration and expression.
Why wonder is the most human of all emotions, essay, Jesse Prinz (https://aeon.co/essays/why-wonder-is-the-most-human-of-all-emotions)
A World of fragile Parts exhibition, V&A London, La biennale di Venezia 2016
Aldo Manuzio – Renaissance in Venice exhibition, 19 March-19 June 2016, Gallerie dell` Accademia, Venice