Thursday, June 19, 2008

Reproduction: Past, Present, Future

"A man paints with his brains and not with his hands." – Michelangelo

"[T]he earliest art works originated in the service of a ritual—first magical, then the religious kind…. [T]he unique value of the 'authentic' work has its basis in ritual…. [F]or the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the 'authentic' print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice—politics." – Walter Benjamin [1]

"I'm interested in the distribution of physical vehicles in the form of editions because I'm interested in spreading ideas. The objects are only understandable in relations to my ideas. The work I do politically has a different effect on people because such a product exists than it would have if the means of expression were only the written word. Although these products may not seem suitable for bringing about political change, I think more emanates from them than if the ideas behind them were revealed directly. To me the vehicle quality of the editions is important...." – Joseph Beuys [2]

"I like things to be exactly the same over and over again. I don't want it to be essentially the same—I want it to be exactly the same." – Andy Warhol [3]

"A painting's meaning lies not in its origin, but in its destination." – Sherrie Levine [4]

In contemporary America, and with global reach, culture has been redefined as intellectual property. This is the only game in town. Multinational corporations are the dominant players, absorbing and provoking counter-cultures and traditional cultures alike. The rules are inordinately complex, involving worldwide legal systems that only an army of experts can decipher. The action is connected by chaotic technological infrastructures that simultaneously reduce all cultural production into a single digital currency, while unleashing infinite possibilities for creative expression. Reproduction—be it virtual or physical—is the ultimate prize: the primary mode by which creators communicate their contributions to a larger audience and capture the full value of their work.

Technological revolutions spur new opportunities and new limits, pioneers and resistance. These effects are extreme in the fine arts, with its contradictory values of innovation and tradition, fame and rarity, originality and universality, subversion and awe. Will the digital reproduction of ideas—in the form of images, words, sounds, movement, and numbers—have as profound of an effect in the Twenty-First Century as the invention of mechanical reproduction had in the Fifteenth Century? Will visual artists be at the cutting edge of these changes as they were six-hundred years ago? The answer lies in how creative professionals engage the world of intellectual property and communicate to the public at large.

Western society has evolved over centuries toward ever more liberal conventions of cultural access, but each generation must repeat the struggle. With every advance in the reproductive dissemination of cultural creation comes a conservative reaction that longs for older traditions, and tries to reign in the effects of technologically wrought change. Artists have played leading roles on both sides of this historical debate. Digital reproduction is at the heart of today's tussle of cultural evolution. While important aspects of digital reproduction are new, many of the tensions posed are ancient in origins.

[1] Benjamin, 1935.
[2] Beuys 1970.
[3] Warhol 1989.
[4] Levine 1982.


AMTER said...

Indeed, very interesting work Mr. Goldman.

Papierflieger said...

I miss Victor Vasarely in your list. He was one of the first artists who promoted the reproduction against the "original".

By the way,Michelangelo was completely wrong. He probably only liked the idea.