Sunday, May 16, 2010

From Art of Reproduction to Art of Duplication

While glancing through impressions of the world according to visual artists (and the people who have decided their work is worthwhile buying, preserving, and collecting) at an art museum, I got the distinct feeling feeling that the age we are living in now could easily be considered an age of duplication.

The art of printmaking has been around for centuries, and the art of photography has been around for nearly two hundred years (though projection of images through lenses has been around for longer). Reproduction, it seems, is as much a part of sharing culture as culture itself. Cultural and artistic norms help us know where a piece of pottery might have been made, when it might have been made, and, as we all learn from watching the Antiques Roadshow, pieces of pottery from particular factories have particular collectible value.

People with the technique to do so would make reproductions of paintings, which is how many artists learned to paint (and still learn to paint). People with technique who want to make money can make forgeries, but you need a lot of technique to get away with it. Artists acquire technique by practice, just like musicians acquire technique by practice. My mother always said that her drawings from life were her "scales."

Traveling through America in time and space, from the Hudson Valley School to the world of 1960s pop art, past pure minimalism, and into the art of "today" makes me understand a little bit about what artists and museum curators see as "representing" American life in the 21st century. So I will make a bold statement: the current trend seems to be about dealing with the recognizable, and then duplicating it, sometimes ad naseum. We marvel at the technique of assembly, the ingenuity of uniformity, and the isolation that these pieces represent--obsessive repetition within a confined space.

We live in a logo-filled world. A drive down any highway, through any business district of any city (large or small) will offer the same images: the same signs, the same businesses. A trek through the internet (and I guess with an i-device, which I never use) will also offer icons that we recognize as universal. These icons are often beautiful in their simplicity. A trek through a supermarket is an equally-stimulating visual feast of logos and icons. A glance at the magazines by the checkout (and all supermarkets have them in the same place because they all follow the same blueprint) have the same celebrities on their covers. During news time on the television, the same news stories are discussed by the hosts on several different cable channels--and all the men and women seem to be wearing the same array of clothes (except Judy Woodruff on the PBS News Hour, who thrills us once in a while with something from her "Jetsons" wardrobe).

A glance at a college campus will reveal young adults dressed in nearly identical clothes (though they would claim that they are wearing them because they choose to) to those of their classmates. Fashion is the art of duplication, and self-expression seems to be in accessories (what kind of skin you have on your cell phone, perhaps, or which designer or faux-designer purse you carry).

Why shouldn't "officially-sanctioned" art reflect this cookie-cutter world? A lot of "officially-sanctioned" music certainly does.

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