August 19, 2010

The Value of Original Art

       Some people value New In Box Barbie dolls, others value original comic books.  Different people value different things in original.  I don't happen to care about either Barbies or comic books, but I do value original art.  (Notice that I'm not counting Barbies or comic books as art.  That's a whole 'nother discussion!)  But why do I value original art?  There is an argument to be made that since visual art has no use beyond its appearance, therefore a reproduction does everything an original does.  So what's the value of original pieces?
        I imagine that most people can accept that a poster of a painting by Van Gogh fails to capture the true appearance of the original.  A reproduction won't have the texture, or reflect the light the same way, or capture the colors exactly right.  It may not be the same size as the original.  But the closer a reproduction is to an original, the more valid the question becomes: when two things look exactly the same, why should one be worth so much more than another?  I confess this is the very reason I've never bought an original photograph.  To me it seems as if a reproduction of a photograph is, in fact, a photograph.  (Any photographers out there please feel free to explain to me why I'm wrong about this!)  I admit that a simple black and white block print, unlike a Van Gogh painting, can be reproduced sufficiently accurately that it might be hard to tell the reproduction from the original at first glance.  Maybe that makes it seem hardly worthwhile to spend good money on buying original art when you can get a perfectly nice reproduction for a fraction of the cost.  So I propose that there are two differences that give the original a special value.
        1.  You can tell an original block print if you look a little more closely.  You can see the texture of the ink laid on the paper, and you can see the embossing of the paper from the pressure of the block.  (Admittedly, most of my prints, done with rubber blocks and hand pressing, have very little embossing.  On the other end of the spectrum are wood blocks done on a professional press, which embosses the paper so deeply and clearly that you can even make "prints" with no ink at all, as in "gauffrage" and the Japanese "karazuri" technique.)  In any case, though, I love that when I look at an original print I can see the process that produced it - the embossing that occurs only because of the carving of the block, and the ink that occurs only because of the rolling and pressing.  And that brings me to…
        2.  Knowing that someone made a piece by hand, and being able to see the evidence of that hand work, makes me feel a connection to the artist and the art that is not the same when viewing a reproduction.  I went to an exhibit of Escher's work once, and although many of the pieces there were entirely familiar to me already through reproductions, there was something much more wonderful about seeing the originals.  I could really see that Escher actually made these things I was viewing.  I could imagine his mind and his hands at work in every detail.  (That was where I first saw and fell in love with Palm.)  At my shows I really enjoy meeting the people who buy my work.  I love hearing why they've chosen a particular piece, whom they plan to give it to or why it's meaningful to them.  And I think they really enjoy meeting me, and feeling as if they have that much more of a connection with the person who made the piece that gives them pleasure.
        In the exclusive world of art dealers and collectors it's all about supply and demand.  There are millions of Van Gogh posters, but only one of each particular painting, and if someone is willing and able to plunk down a few million bucks to buy it, they know that they're the only person in the world who can say they own it.  Limiting an edition of prints promises viewers that there are only 10 pieces of this artwork in the world, or only 15, or whatever, and that adds to the feeling of uniqueness.  Rarity is always going to seem special.  Of course, for those of us who can't afford original Van Goghs, a poster may be better than nothing, but I still find that there's something special about a piece individually made by the artist herself.  Far more important than some sort of bragging rights, I think original work is valuable because it has come in a sense in a direct line from the artist's imagination, through his hands, into the world.  When viewing original art work there is a connection, even when you'll never meet the artist, even when the artist has been dead for centuries, even when the artist is anonymous or unknown -- and ultimately, making connections is why humans make and appreciate art, and what art is for.

[Picture: Circle of Angels, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007 (sold out).]


Sherrie Russ Levine said...

This is very meaningful to me and applies to any style of original art. I want to share this with others on my blog! --Sherrie

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Hello, Sherrie. It's always a pleasure to have a like-minded person stop by! By all means share this. Thanks!