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August 30, 2013
3D Printing And the Value of Authenticity
There is an interesting exchange going on between Felix Salmon at Reuters and Izabella Kaminska at FT Alphaville over the likelihood that cheap 3D reproduction technologies
will disrupt art markets.
Kaminska posted the kick-off piece about three days ago (as I write this); then came Salmon's blog entry and just yesterday Kaminska responded. (warning: FT Alphaville requires free registration in order to be able to read the bodies of articles.)
The core question revolves around what happens when there is no obviously distinguishable difference between an original and a reproduction: will the value of originals collapse? Kaminska argues that they will. Salmon's counterpoint is that improvements in reproduction technology in the past have not caused collapses, so why should this one? In addition, he notes that even without technology there are many clever forgers operating today, whose works cannot be distinguished from originals by non-experts. These copies are not valued as highly as the originals, nor does their existence cause the value of the original to go down.
Why? Salmon ascribes the value of the originals to "[t]he invisible aura of authenticity" and gives examples of how people value authentic items, even when the copy is indistinguishable. He further believes that art may well move into a mode more like the music industry has adopted, where the (unique) quality of experience has become the thing promoted, and the (easily duplicated) art object becomes secondary.
Kaminska's response is to argue that in a world of perfect copies authenticity cannot be determined - you might be able to carbon-date a Van Gogh, but pixels don't have that ability. To the extent that art becomes digital/digitized it loses many of the markers available now for establishing authenticity. She further denies that art is like music in that although there are lots of performative art works, a significant aspect of art is the presentation, which includes selection and curation of shows, galleries, etc.
There's a lot more to the argument and I encourage you to read the originals. My personal feeling at the moment is that it will not be either/or, it will be both/and. But what do I know.
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