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Weapons of Mass Reproduction: Phone Images Detract from Classic Art

Graphic by Daphne '19
Graphic by Daphne ’19

 From woodblock printing in the 1300s to “Lanternists” in the 1850s, who started projecting photographs of pieces of art, all the way to the popularization of posters of famous paintings and the creation of online galleries to display photographs of artists’ work, reproduction has made art progressively more accessible while simultaneously distancing the viewer from the original work. Viewers who may otherwise have been unaware of a piece of art are able to gain some knowledge of it, but the form they perceive is warped and therefore not the art itself.

When the popular Smartphone app Snapchat created a story for the Art Basel Gallery, currently on display in Miami, Florida, the debate flared up once again. In this show any Snapchat user at the gallery could post to the story that could be viewed by Snapchat users around the world. This story certainly increased awareness of the show’s existence and some of the more popular pieces within the various galleries, undoubtedly inspiring a few viewers to learn more about the show or visit the online gallery version where photographs of the art are displayed. However, the story also greatly distorted the hard work of hundreds of artists, allowing Snapchatters to write, draw, change the filter, or in any other way change the quality of these fantastic pieces of art with their sloppy photographs and selfies.

For many worldwide viewers, this is the only version of the Art Basel exhibit they will ever experience. So the question arises, would the artists rather reserve the experience of their art for those who actually attend the show and see it in its original and intended form or visit the professionally photographed and, undoubtedly approved by the artist, gallery online? Or would they rather allow the accessibility and popularity of Snapchat to distribute another version of their art to a vastly greater audience, even if in that version their artwork is slightly obscured by a clever hashtag and used mainly as an excuse for a Miami teens to take advantage of the great lighting to show the world how great they look today? Personally, I would rather people never see a play I was in at all than have them see a recording of it, because the art form is so drastically altered when experienced through a television screen instead of in a theater. In a theater one can experience the energy and become enwrapped in a piece, looking at a performance through a tiny screen cannot come close to that affect. But, that decision is for each artist to decide. Maybe it is worth having one’s art subjected to the whims of various Snapchatters knowing that a few may actually be inspired to look into the pieces at Art Basel and learn more about the show and the artists.

Now, having read this, I charge you, various members of the Marlborough community, to investigate art when it sparks some interest. Just as you would go to the concert of a band you really like, attend a production of a play you loved, see the art exhibit of the artist whose work you’ve seen as posters, go to the performance of a dance group whose videos you’ve seen because the original art will undoubtedly change the way you view the replications, I hope for the better.