Felix Salmon has an excellent post on what happens to works of art once digital reproduction reaches the level of indistinguishability. I often argue with much of what Felix has to say about the art market, so it is worth pointing out when I agree with him. And I hope to have more to say on his post and the others next week because I don’t think Felix goes quite far enough.
In the meantime, it is worth pointing out one major error in Felix’s post:
The invisible aura of authenticity is of paramount importance. 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, your life is reduced by only the most minuscule amount, if at all; financially, you make millions. But no one does that. [emphasis added]
Actually, they do. It is the sort of service that an auction house will provide to a major collector, a memento of their former trophy.
The reproductions the auction houses make aren’t quite at the level of the one’s being discussed here. Nonetheless, Felix is correct in the sense that no one hangs these reproductions with the same sense of pride or satisfaction. The authentic work has a halo that cannot be substituted with a mere replica no matter how detailed or accurate. These reproductions exist more to salve the pain of parting with a treasured object and to ease the transition to a sale.
Go Forth and Multiply (Reuters)