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Appropriation and the Art of the Copy (May 2015): Technology-aided Copying and the Multiple Original

By Elizabeth Mix

Technology-Aided Copying and the Multiple Original

Artists have always employed different types of technology to aid them in creating realistic depictions of nature, from the grinding of pigments into color to mathematical methods of enlarging images by placing a grid on top of preparatory drawings.  Sculptors employed a parallel system to enlarge their maquettes (three-dimensional sketches) and sometimes produce multiple originals of their sculptures.  The French sculptor Auguste Rodin is credited as being the first to issue sculptures in editions, a phenomenon that originated with printmaking.  Of the many books on this artist, three are notable for their discussions of Rodin's sculptural editions as well as the challenges posed in authenticating them: Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin; John Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin: The Collection of the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia; and Kirk Varnedoe et al., Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession.

Two specific technologies, printmaking and photography, led to the ability to create multiple originals and multiple copies with relative ease compared to sculptural processes.  Eventually the two technologies were combined to make photographic reproductions.  Both of these fields are vast, and so only a few texts on each can be included here.  Michel Melot's Prints: History of an Art provides an excellent introduction to the processes, functions, and aesthetics of printmaking from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.  Bamber Gascoigne's How to Identify Prints: A Complete Guide to Manual and Mechanical Processes from Woodcut to Inkjet is an excellent book to help viewers determine the different print processes through careful viewing.  Linda Hults, in The Print in the Western World: An Introductory History, provides a chronological survey of technical, formal, and socioeconomic implications of printmaking from the Renaissance to 1980; extensive bibliographies at the end of each chapter make this volume an excellent choice for expanding the reader's knowledge on the subject.

The idea that the medium of printmaking directly informs the message it delivers to an audience was advanced by William Ivins in Prints and Visual Communication, which asserted that prints supplemented and even supplanted texts as vehicles for information.  The exhibition Imagined Worlds: Willful Invention and the Printed Image 1470-2005, curated by Amy Sandback, is an extension of Ivins's ideas, envisioning not only the force that prints exerted on the shaping of cultural ideas, but also the reciprocal role that culture played in the creation of prints.  The social function of multiple images is explored in more depth by A. Hyatt Mayor in Prints and People: A Social History of Printed Pictures while the market forces underpinning technological advances in printing is explored by Chandra Mukerji in From Graven Images: Patterns of Modern Materialism.

The vast history of photography is treated chronologically by Naomi Rosenblum in A World History of Photography and thematically by Michel Frizot in A New History of Photography.  Photography affected the ability to copy beyond its inherent technology.  Nineteenth-century academic painters in particular began to substitute photographs in place of live models in a money-saving move that inevitably changed the trajectory of modern art.  Van Deren Coke demonstrates artists' uses of the photograph from Eugène Delacroix to Andy Warhol in The Painter and the Photograph.  The stylistic impact of the transformation may not have been understood by the artists themselves—the medium of photography inherently flattened space, undoing the careful perspective that had been prized in European art since the Renaissance, something that Manet's critics identified quickly.  Artists in the nineteenth century generally concealed their use of photography, but Pascal Dagnan Bouveret retained documentation of the process in each stage, from original photograph to composite to finished painting, as explained by Gabriel Weisberg in Against the Modern: Dagnan-Bouveret and the Transformation of the Academic Tradition.

Works Cited