Saturday, January 13, 2007

Fine Art Without The Pinky Finger Up

Posted by olvlz.
We went to see an exhibition once, a friend who is a painter and I. On the way home I asked him, what if it was possible to produce facsimiles of great works of art that were so exact that not a single expert could tell the difference between the originals and the reproductions by looking at their surfaces, would the reproductions be as great works of art as the originals?

My friend didn’t like the question. He wanted to hold out for the originals being the “real” work of art. In the discussion he couldn’t answer why there would be a difference if the experience of looking at the reproductions was identical to that of looking at the originals.

He asked me if someone came up with an electronic piano that sounded like a great piano if it would be just the same as a “real” piano. I had to say that if pianists and their audiences couldn’t tell the difference then there wouldn’t be a musical difference. If the electronic instrument had the same feel, play and sounds then, yes, it is as valid as a great, nine-foot, grand piano. I could go further and say that if there were recordings that exactly recorded a performance so that no one could tell the difference then listening to the recording, once, would be exactly the same as having attended the performance. Once, there’s the rub. Music and live theater are an experience of performances*. Painters and sculptors generally produce an object that is experienced but which is, one hopes, static in time. In order for music to exist it has to be performed.

All this is getting at the controversy over Alice Walton’s buying “The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins and moving it to her new museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. As much as I despise the Walton family’s way of making money and as much as public institutions selling great art to private people bothers me, I don’t have much of a problem with this painting going to another city. Two, it seems. The National Gallery will apparently display it too as a part of an agreement. I do, however, have deep sympathy for those who think it should stay in Philadelphia.

I didn’t especially like the museum model they showed in the paper, no building should ever be built on the watershed of a river or lake. While wondering how protected the artwork is so close to water, it’s the ecological damage that really bothers me.

It would serve the interests of the art viewing public if processes of making exact copies, as theorized above, could be invented. Why not have a exact copies of all great art work available everywhere? Wouldn’t that be a more worthy expenditure of the energy going into fussing about where a picture resides? Maybe there should be a tax on all sales of art works over a ridiculous price to fund the research into finding ways to do it. How could art lovers complain about the experience of art becoming entirely democratic? While it would probably be too controversial, I’d put a ruinous tax on sales of the work of Thomas Kincade et al, now that would really bring in those research dollars.**

As for music. I upgraded my Finale music printing software. Those Garritin sound samples included in it are pretty impressive. My fellow pianists, we should be a little worried, maybe. But wind and string players don’t have as much reason to be afraid. Not yet, anyway.

* Electronic music often, but not always, is an exception.

** I know this seems like a courageous proposal. But you’re reading a person who honestly answered the question, “Has my Christmas Village gotten out of hand”, last week. And survived.