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The New Yorker – Art Factory

Last week’s issue of the New Yorker had an article about Art Factories in China. I have to try to grab a copy, but the synopsis on the slide show is very interesting: The business of copying paintings for export and the implications of blurring the line between artist and worker. If art is a fully commercial venture, is it still ‘art’? And if a piece is simply executed, is there still authorship?

3 Responses to “The New Yorker – Art Factory”

  1. It's an interesting question. Much art has been a fully commercial venture. Michelangelo was commissioned to do the Sistene Chapel. What makes it art is the stamp of that individual's vision, skill and 'hand'.

    As an art student, we had to copy a master painting. It was a great way to learn by doing. However, even if the whole class copied the same painting, we each had a personal 'style' that still showed through. Which means that even if the Chinese artists do a super-faithful copy, it won't match the original.

    It makes me sad to think of aspiring artists who are stunted by copying the same painting over and over. Yet it might be a better lifestyle than not painting at all?

  2. I don't think it's an artistic endeavor at all if it is simply an exercise in technique without being conceptual. I'd say it's just a technical skill, like any skill that can be learned. What bothers me is not that the duplication of paintings is being made – there are some great copyists out there that put a lot of thought into their concept – but that it takes something that is supposed to be the opposite of unimaginative and assembly-lines it. I disagree with OTRgirl that personal style shows through in this case. They are meant to be identical. And commercial it may be, as art has been throughout history, but being commissioned for a grand project the Sistene Chapel is different than copying over and over famous painters for export. I think it must deaden the senses to replicate something without thought and only technique. Unless you are a conceptual artist, that must take all the pleasure out of it. Thanks for posing this question.

  3. If you listen to the audio by the author of the article, he gives a little summary of the thoughts of the people who work there. One woman treats it simply as technical work, a trade that she learned instead of other technical work. She sees no artistry in the work, it's just like painting any other product – toy, ceramic, etc. The place seems like it really is a factory in the true sense – efficient reproduction for commercial purchase.

    The interesting thing is that there are plenty of photorealistic painters who work from photographic reference. They are essentially reproducing an image – through translation from a photo to a painting. But they are still reproducing an image from another image. Does it make a difference that these artists work from a picture of a painting? Is the act of translation considered art?