If you think about some of your favourite art you then you might note that you have probably actually never seen the work in person.
Take the DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, for example. You know what this painting is, I know what this painting is and we can discuss this painting with a reasonable amount of familiarity – but chances are, like me, you’ve never seen the actual, physical painting.
In a more contemporary timeline, think about Damien Hirst’s Dead Shark or even his Spot Paintings. Love them or hate them, these works transcend their physical location through the media’s reproduction of them. They are well know outside of contemporary art circles now and they will be part of art history classes for many generations to come. Am I saying that controversial work is media friendly? Not exactly, because no one would of cared about these controversial art works if they were not intrinsically “media friendly” already.
This is not an aspect of great art that is isolated in the last century – it is an enduring characteristic of art history for all peoples since the very beginning of time. Cave paintings were seen and reproduced by different artists of that era. Manuscripts and their illustrations were hand-copied by monks throughout many centuries. That Mona Lisa painting was copied by artists as a drawings, prints & paintings so patrons in many cities throughout Europe could view the work without having to travel. Damien Hirst’s Dead Shark appeared in hundreds of magazine and newspapers, and countless websites and blogs.
A work that is easy to reproduce does not become great work because of this characteristic, but it is an essential ingredient for whatever elusive formula for greatness is out there. A work can be a masterpiece, a subtle and delicate work that defies proper documentation or description (and isn’t that the point of art, many would argue) but if it’s not easily reproducible as a quick sketch then it won’t be immortalized by media. It’s stays mostly substance and less media. In this sense society’s most common experience of art history is essentially that of a collection of rock stars who appeal directly the masses both commercially and aesthetically.
This has led me to wonder if when we see and identify with a reproduction of a work of art, if in fact we are mislabeling our experience of what we are seeing – this reproduction is no longer a reproduction but a stand alone work of art on it’s own. There is not one Mona Lisa or Dead Shark – there are millions of them.
Side note: This insight was supposed to be a blog post four years ago, but I didn’t have a blog. So I started this blog and decided I needed a few other posts to put this into context – and now here we are.