The Effect of 3-D Reproductions on the Value of Original Art

3D-scanner-makes-fine-art-reproductions-by-tim-zaman-and-delft-designboom-04We value certain objects because they are handmade, because hands made them and because they are historically important. The actual brushstrokes, the actual paint. There is only one. It almost always begins its life admired in a private home. Later, perhaps, it lives in a public institution, admired by many. In either case, the invisible aura of authenticity is important.

Yet, look at the people who sell their beloved masterpieces at auction — they have in many cases lived with these paintings for decades, grown to love them dearly, and are parting with them only with the greatest reluctance. There’s a simple way to have your cake and eat it, in that situation: before you sell the work, you get a very accurate reproduction made, which looks to all intents and purposes identical, and hang it in the same place that the original had been. Aesthetically, one’s life is reduced by only the most minuscule amount, if at all; financially, one makes millions. But no one does that.

Even fakes can acquire an aura: one collector had a beautiful Paul Klee drawing by her bedside, and learned after many years that it was a fake. It stayed by her bedside, as beloved as ever (if not nearly as valuable). But again, if it had been stolen, she would not have replaced it with a reproduction, or some fake fake.

The point is that so long as authenticity can be determined somehow, the value of an original unique artwork will always be orders of magnitude greater than the value of any copy. It doesn’t matter if you can tell the difference; the value lies in the authenticity, not in the aesthetics of the piece.

That said, advances in reproduction technology have changed what artists do, in profound and interesting ways. (from a September 2013 Reuters Report) Consider the advent of 3-D printing. There is a certain fascination around the subject of a computer imitating the human hand and creating a nearly indistinguishable copy. A fusion of science and art, 3-D modeling allows us to see artwork from a new perspective as we watch a computer engage in the “creative process.” While 3-D printing forces us to reevaluate what it means to be an artist, at least as of yet, it has not overthrown the value of authenticity.

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