Thursday, May 26, 2005

Art and Replication

I am currently in the research stages of a post discussing Noah Berlatsky's article Read This And I Own Your Brain in this month's Comics Journal. In it, Berlatsky uses some images from Air Pirates Pirate Edition (for those who don't know these are iconoclastic images of Mickey Mouse) and argues against modern copywrite law. The irony of him using those images will be discussed in the future piece, and yes there is irony.

But two things came together today which bring you this particular post. The first is a comment, or a shadow of a memory of a comment (the real comment will be in the post regarding Berlatsky), in Ed Banfield's book The Democratic Muse: Visual Arts and the Public Interest. The comment, which is not by the Author but part of a discussion in the book, is essentially that "reproductions of art lack the power of the original." The person making the claim is talking about paintings in particular. My opinions, and the context of the quote, will be expressed in the Berlatsky post, but the statement is true in the case I will be sharing today.

Which brings me to the second thing, Gaze Theory mourns the passing of Ismael Merchant on her site today and compares his work on Room with a View with the art of Monet. A very nice and apt comparison, but in her post she includes a very small image of a Monet painting.

Seeing this small reproduction of the painting reminded me of the many times I have watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In particular, the scene where Cameron is looking at Seurat's famous painting A Sunday in the Park on the Island of La Grande Jatte.


Cameron is looking at a framed image on a wall and focusing on the child in the center of the painting. The scene is one of the most powerful, at least emotionally, in the film, capturing the sense of lonliness, hopelessness, and fear many teenagers encounter. I had always taken for granted that the film was showing an "accurate" depiction of the painting. Until I went to Chicago and visited the Art Institute, a great overview of their Seurat exhibition in 2004 can be found here. As powerful as the scene was in the film, the actual work of art was so awe inspiring that the film's "reproduction" didn't come close to the reality. The painting was massive, it really needs to be seen to be believed.

The only thing that makes the "reproduction" in any way comparable to the reality is that in the reproduction the work is soliciting the proper reaction in both the actor, and through the actor's performance, the audience as well. In Bueller, Hughes understands the strengths and weaknesses of his medium well and maximizes the strength to overcome a weakness. In doing so, he partially prepared me for the amazing experience La Grande Jatte is.
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