MSB brainstorming

10 August 2018

Dr Great Art Podcast 39: Copying in Art

Dr Great Art Podcast Episode 39: Copying in Art
My artecdote this time is about the phenomenon of artists copying each other and themselves (not forgeries, copies). Something thoroughly disdained since Modernism, yet an activity that was important before that, for learning, out of admiration, for expanding an audience, for additional income. And some thoughts about the situation now.
#arthistory #copying #drgreatart


The script.

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 39th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast.

My artecdote this time is about the phenomenon of artists copying each other and themselves. Something thoroughly disdained since Modernism, yet an activity that was important before that, for learning, out of admiration, for expanding an audience, for additional income. And some thoughts about the situation now.

First, I am talking about COPIES, not forgeries. A forgery is an object created with the intention to deceive, usually for profit, but also sometimes with the aim of ruining the reputations of ostensible experts. Many, even most, forgeries of art are not direct copies, but rather the creation of works "in the style" of a famous artist, artificial aged and so on, in order for them to be taken as lost works. To my mind, excellent forgers are not really artists, but actually are excellent art historians and technical experts, who play on the vanity and ignorance of their targets. Something I have trouble being upset about, but that is a subject for another podcast.

Copies are one-to-one facsimile reproductions of a specific artwork. However, they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations by others. Replacing the signature of a lesser-known artist with that of a more famous and pricey one is common. This being done on a painting created in the style of the master, perhaps by a student or follower.

Making copies was an integral aspect of learning until Modernism. In the Renaissance and Baroque, in particular, if a painting were a big success (usually due to word of mouth, as there was no real mass media), a master artist would often have his apprentices make copies of it. He would generally go around the room as they did this, over months, advising, teaching, even correcting by painting directly on the students works. The finished pieces were then sold and were clearly and not deceptively explained as student copies. "School of" is one such designation. They were cheaper and an opportunity for more people to see the painting, as the original may have been sequestered in a noble's palace or the like. There were no museums. The copies were also opportunities for the shop and the apprentice to make some money. Most importantly, they were good learning experiences, as a way to refine personal technique. And if the master helped, what was the exact status anyway?

Before photographic reproduction, this was very important. There were no photos, no posters, no online digital images, etc. A generation after Raphael’s death, Andrea del Sarto was making excellent copies of his paintings; often ones that are great on their own terms. Peter Paul Rubens a hundred years later made the only surviving copy of Leonardo's lost Battle of Anghiari, a work Leonardo had only partially begun before abandoning it for Milan. This shows the value of copies to the historical record.

Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney write, "When painters as talented as Andrea or Rubens made a copy, those works became masterpieces in their own right: in effect, they are conversations carried out in pigment — an homage, a learning tool, and a means of competition, demonstrating that the later artist’s skill is comparable to that of the great master of the original work."

Painters and sculptors themselves would on occasion produce multiple versions of their own works. Usually with variations, but sometimes almost identical. Titian painted 4 highly similar versions of the penitent Mary Magdalene. We Modernists and Postmodernists are not bothered by this, as we appreciate the very Modernist invention of the Series.

"Leonardo, who rarely finished anything, nonetheless completed two versions of his Virgin of the Rocks," as Rowland and Charney also write. In some of these cases, a painter discovered a successful composition that collectors specifically asked him to reproduce.

Caravaggio painted two or three versions of his Lute Players, and even two Conversions of Saint Paul for the same church in Rome. The first version was judged (probably by the artist himself) to be too cramped and busy when it was set in position in the narrow chapel for which it was painted. Caravaggio replaced the work with a somewhat simplified, thus more dramatic, composition.

Bronzino made an exact copy of his Altarpiece of Eleonora di Toledo because a visiting luminary loved the original in Eleonora's private chapel in the Palazzo Vecchio.

Painters also copied one another; everybody copied Michelangelo, even his cartoon for the Battle of Cascina, which seems to have been traced so frequently that it fell apart. Titian copied Raphael, Rubens copied Titian, Delacroix copied Rubens. Picasso, in lieu of school, painted a slew of works in the styles of his Early Modernist heroes.

Giorgio de Chirico the renowned precursor of Surrealism is controversial today for his provocative practice of copying and backdating works of his Metaphysical period.

By the mid-1920s there were only a few Metaphysical paintings by de Chirico one could buy. He had begun to create works of a dramatically different style in the 1920s, a rather kitschy style still today rather disliked, surprising for PoMo. The original version of Le muse inquietanti from 1918 was already owned by the art historian and critic, Giorgio Castelfranco. The Surrealist poet Paul Éluard wanted to buy it, but Castelfranco wanted too much money for it. So the Éluards went to de Chirico hoping to purchase another Metaphysical work. However, de Chirico offered to make a copy of it for a reasonable price, terming these reproductions verifalsi. The term verifalsi translates to "true-fakes." He felt it was his right, as he needed money and they WERE his works (in fact nowadays we would remember that the copyright still belonged to him). Such verifalsi came to be standard practice for de Chirico. He created numerous copies of the Metaphysical works, --- although it must be added that none was an exact replica of the original. Inspired by this, other Surrealists created some of their own de Chirico replicas, forged by artists like Óscar Domínguez, Max Ernst, and Remedios Varo. Some even with de Chirico-like (but not identical) signatures.

Marcel Duchamp expressed admiration for de Chirico's self-copying and famously stated that we must let history be the judge if that is terrible or not, that de Chirico might have the last laugh.

Andy Warhol also stated his admiration for de Chirico’s serial replication of his own works.

When the Louvre was first opened to the public in 1793, many days were reserved for artists to study and copy works in the collection. You can still see people doing that now there, but far fewer. At that time, this was a handy source of income for young artists, as many museums, such as in the US, could not then afford major works, and wanted good copies to exhibit. Samuel Morse, the painter and inventor of the Morse code, made a living by copying in Europe for America for a number of years.

In High and Late Modernism, copying is and was seen as a sin. A great fear of the boring, soulless works of Academicism in pre-Modernism probably caused this. Those artists all did slick, glassy, inexpressive works in an art academy-enforced plagiarism of Raphael. And while copying in that sense can indeed be dangerous, there are ways of making it creative and useful as we have heard.

From that time on, and in our own, copying became a kind of conceptual even philosophical position, rather than one of homage, learning, publicity or academicism. For example, Mike Bidlo, Sherrie Levin and Elaine Sturtevant became famous for copying other artworks. Mike for the amazing exactness, Sherrie for her odd alterations and Elaine for her unique approach. Sturtevant made works by memorization only, manually reproducing paintings and objects created by her contemporaries. They are immediately recognizable, although "copies." Andy Warhol enjoyed hers so much, he gave Sturtevant one of his silkscreens so she could produce her own versions of his paintings.

So, what is copying's position now, or what will it be Post-Postmodernism? That is hard to say. I think it has a true heuristic function, can be great fun, and can even be incorporated into important dialogistic creations --- the last, an idea based on the work of theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. I think we should reassess it in contemporary instruction, but free it from any slavish exactness. Can you find some aspect of yourself in that work or artist you admire? That would be the question to ask. It would help in the re-skilling of our de-skilled time and help to get it out of one's system every-so-often, so that perhaps we could also be freed from the dreary "I-copy-but-will-not-admit-it" situation of so much current work, which is truly academicist as this duplicity is trained in art schools and enforced by know-nothing critics. Knowing what you are doing allows you to use it as a conceptual and formal material, as a part of your own agon, your own artistic struggle.

Thanks for listening. Podcast number 39.
Copying in Art

If you enjoy my podcasts, please go to Apple podcasts and give me 5 stars and a recommendation! It helps others find this podcast. Additionally, if you have any questions or requests for topics, please feel free to contact me with them! I'd truly enjoy covering them!

If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also, I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my room-filling painting-installations with accompanying paintings.

Some recent ones were on the entire history of Women Artists throughout history and on Mongrel Art. Once again, I'd like to thank Chloe Orwell, Brad Elvis, and the rock band the Handcuffs for composing, performing and recording my theme song, "Shut Up and Paint," a tiny portion of which begins and ends every Dr Great Art Podcast.

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