In 1972, BBC released a four-part television series of thirty minute films hosted by writer and art critic John Berger. The series entitled Ways of Seeing sought to explore the effects of reproduction in art. Berger stressed that the invention of the camera changed the world of art because it allowed more people to view a work of art by reproducing it. He noted that the difference between an original painting and a picture is that an original painting can only be in one place at one time, but pictures of the painting can be reproduced in any size and used for any purpose.
For example, take a look at the two pictures below. The first is a reproduction of an “original” Mona Lisa while the second is a picture inspired by the original Mona Lisa.
Caption(pic1): Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452-1519). Mona Lisa (La Gioconda), ca. 1503-05. Oil on poplar wood. 77 x 53 cm (30 3/8 x 20 7/8 in.).
Caption (pic 2): A reproduction of Mona Lisa created for an online Photoshop contest.
According to Berger, most people see the image of a painting rather than the painting itself. Instead of going to a museum to look at a piece of work, art has become too readily available to the public through photographs, television, and since the production of the series, the internet. Due to this increase of viewers the meaning of the painting has become as transmittable because as more people view the work, more opinions of its meaning are created that differ from the artist’s original intent. I’m sure that Leonardo da Vinci did not intend for his work to be transformed into the picture from above, but that is a result of reproduction.
In the series, Berger asserts that reproductions have replaced original art and have therefore cheapened art as we know it. He explains that the reason that the originals are so awe-inspiring when viewed is because of their market value. An original art of work is in limited supply (there is only one) therefore that one piece of work has a high market value whereas a reproduction of the piece can be sold for a significantly lower price. In the business world, this is similar to the relationship between supply and price in which a higher supply of a product results in a lower price.
The series basically claims that reproductions have destroyed art because it has opened it up to more opinions and manipulation. What do you think? Is reproduction good because it provides more people access to view art or bad because it “cheapens” it?
Below is the first part of Ways of Seeing:
For more on reproduction check out the Junkprints shop where you can purchase prints from Chanel’s “No Original” series which addresses the topic of reproduction. Yes, the prints are in fact reproductions, but they are seriously cool.
Below is a piece from the “No Original” series:
Caption: “No Original” series “Twigged Out” print. Each 13”x19” print is printed on archival matte paper, signed and numbered. Only 50 have been printed.