Copying is as Old as the Hills

In Zart’s series Thoughts about Print and Printmaking, we discuss topics based on questions raised by Zartians and Zartists. In our daily life a printmakers, we meet numerous people with ideas and questions. Hence, Zart started to publish a range of articles that will address matters such as copying, authenticity, and status of print in the art scene. Blogger Marceline Geelen gives her view on the matter of copy.

Copying is as Old as the Hills

By Marceline Geelen

Copying of art a dirty word? It’s as old as the hills! The famous Rembrandt van Rijn was so busy drinking, hitting on women and being The Man that he gathered students who could do his job, copying his style meticulously. All he had to do was put his signature at the bottom. Et voilà, a new Rembrandt was born.

What if you live in the mountains, but you love to paint seashores? You go on the Internet and choose a picture or painting – possibly originally made by a well renounced artist and now reproduced by you as if it were the original. Is the painting less beautiful after you copied it?

Good artists, bad artists
In 2014, BBC Culture highlighted an article titled ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal’. Without context, this seems a pretty bold statement, but philosophically speaking, if you dig deeper into the matter, there’s much more than meets the eye. ‘Counterfeiters copy and conceal they are doing so’, is stated in the article. ‘Students copy, as artistic training. Assistants copy, as labor for more famous artists’ (hence Rembrandt, red). ‘But as Sturtevant shows, the border between original and copy, invention and plagiarism, is constantly up for negotiation’.

Authority and authorship
The thin line between art and copy has been a subject of debate for as long as remembered: ‘Sturtevant, who died earlier in 2014 at the age of 89, was faking Warhol and Lichtenstein and Johns – but she was faking the act of faking them too, using the techniques of a parodist  – or criminal forger – for much bolder ends. Philosophically sophisticated but not at all conceptual in execution, Sturtevant’s art actually hinges less on copying than on the big questions of authority, authorship, circulation and history’.

Installation by Elaine Sturtevant

Hyde Park, Serpentine Gallery — “Sex Dolls” (2011), art installation by Elaine Sturtevant. Image: Willard, Source: Flickr Creative Commons

Upper class
If art is only available to look at in a museum, or exclusively affordable for the upper class, what is the sense of it? Why aren’t we all so privileged that we can enjoy our favorite painting every day – above our own couch, in our own living room? Or at least a one-on-one print of it?

We’re positive that none of us will be less impressed by ‘only a print’ of our favorite picture. From experience, we know that we generally lavish our eyes every time again when we look at it, over and over discovering new aspects and details. Details we would never have figured out by just watching the piece of art for a few minutes in a museum or gallery before we head over to the next one. Just sayin’.