The Real Thing

I stumbled across a web site the other day that consisted of a set of reproductions of da Vinci paintings—well, sort of. The images had been stretched horizontally to fit the image placeholders, distorting every da Vinci image on the page.

And I thought, what if someone, a student, perhaps, researching the work of da Vinci, came across this page and thought that this is what da Vinci’s work really looked like? How sad. How misleading.

And this brought up the whole subject of art work reproductions. Even if the inks aren’t quite the right color, at least in a book, the proportions are usually correct and not subject to the all the possible distortions that might be found on the web. In all fairness, a quick glance at da Vinci pages on the web shows that the proportions are correct on almost all of them, although there appears to be great variation in color. How do you go about determining which colors are the right ones?  How are you to know by looking at images on the internet, what colors the artist actually put on the canvas or paper? You really need to see the real thing.

There is so much that one can learn from seeing real art work as opposed to reproductions. The first Rembrandt I ever saw was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was fairly young when this happened, and I had seen reproductions in books, and read some comments on his paintings but I didn’t really get it. I would look at the pictures in the books and try to figure out what it was that made this painter so wonderful.  Then that day in New York, I came around a corner and there it was, on a tripod stand, at eye level, carefully and cleanly lighted. And suddenly I knew what all the fuss was about.

Seeing a real Rembrandt, I at once understood what everybody had been talking about. I saw the use of light; I saw the color choices and blending, and things that I had no words for at the time, that I sometimes still have to reach to find. It was completely amazing. I couldn’t speak. I stood there and gawked.

And suddenly I knew something I had never known before: what art could be.  I also realized that it was really impossible to judge a work of art or an artist without seeing the real thing.

The internet has its place, as do books of reproductions of art work. They certainly can display subject matter; they can show us elements of technique and style; they can suggest the use of color. This last item is, I think, the most problematic since it is subject to monitor quality and calibration, color correctness of the original file, or ink distribution, accuracy, and press control in the case of printing.

Reproductions can let you familiarize yourself with artists whose work you may never actually see, and I have certainly used both the web and books for that purpose. But I always take an opportunity to see the real thing when I can, because no matter how closely the reproduction approaches the original, it is still just a place holder. It can never match the impact or be more than a stand-in for the presentation the artist intended. There is no substitute for the real thing.

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Date: Sunday, 19. September 2010 21:02
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Aesthetics, Criticism

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1 Comment

  1. 1

    After feeling spirtually hollow for quite some time – a travelling Dali painting from the MOMA broght me to unexpected tears – so small, so powerful – and a painting I had studied and pondered upon for many years in books and posters made me feel as if I was standing in the presence of a god-like being –

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