Week 3 - The Blur Between the Original and the copy of an Artwork Resulting From the “Age of Digital Reproduction” by Joon Jang

Perhaps the most important aspect of technology in respect to art is our increasing ability to communicate fast to a wide audience.  And in communicating, digital means is the most effective, bringing forth the “Age of Digital Reproduction” that Douglas Davis talks about in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction.  In the essay, Davis argues that the idea of a pure original and impure copy is now fiction.  I partially agree with him, but I daresay that he did not have the whole picture.
The only reason why digital art, which is based on film, electronics, or telecommunications, has no clear original or copy is because the first product, in itself, is a copy.  That is, the original, is in a different medium.  In film, the original medium would be the process in making the film, including, but not limited to, the actors, the camera angle, the script, and the setting.  In electronics and telecommunications, the products are meant to be mass produced and virtually exact copies of each other, only differentiated, for electronics, by the preferences of the users, and for telecommunications, the quality or resolution, if applicable, of the medium, and therefore do not have a physical original.
Then what about the tangible works of art that are mass produced?  Do they have an original?  Perhaps yes, like the copy of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” I used to have.  But if we were to talk about mass produced artwork that isn’t based off of a previous artwork, then I would say that they don’t have an original.  I don’t know if cars can be considered art, but let’s take the early history of Ford for example.  Henry Ford used to say that “you can get any color you want, as long as it was black.”  In other words, all of the Fords were meant to be the same, except maybe for their difference in qualities over time.  Of course, there are some inevitable, albeit small differences in qualities even between brand new Fords, but as far as the consumers are concerned, the Fords are the same.  They are all Fords, made by anonymous workers and machinery we don’t well understand and none were original.
In that sense, the original of those Fords isn’t the very first Ford ever made, but the idea, the logic, the blueprint of the Ford.  Perhaps what it really means to be an original of anything is the idea from the author of that piece.  If this is true, is there any meaning in the traditional sense of the meaning of an original?  Yes, because the original is the closest thing there is to that idea of the author, the closest thing to what the artist wanted to express.  In the past, this translated into “there is meaning in the fact that the artist him/herself made this piece.”  The difference now is, in the digital medium, this no longer can apply, if and only if the artist had made the “piece” digitally.

This is a digital copy of Vincent van Goghs Starry Night.  Can you enjoy this copy the same way you can the original?  Does the digital copy have the same meaning as the original piece?

This is a digital copy of Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night." Can you enjoy this copy the same way you can the original? Does the digital copy have the same meaning as the original piece?

Chess Board by Davo.  Up to what extent is the piece posted here the original? Up to what extent is it a copy?

"Chess Board" by Davo. Up to what extent is the piece posted here the original? Up to what extent is it a copy?

Music has a similar concept.  Music, in a sense, is digital, because of the standard musical system that it revolves around.  When performers precisely perform a song as it is written on its score, the performance is an exact copy of the song, original only in the sense that a same exact performance can never be given again for obvious reasons.  A true original of a song wouldn’t be its first performance but the idea of the song, the sounds of the song that the composer had in mind, which the composer put onto a score.  Perhaps this is the “aura” the people have talked about in speaking of the superiority of the original piece, only wrongfully have thought to emanate from the piece of art itself.  The blur between the original and the copy in music, or any kind of art that result from our technological ability to reproduce and distribute may be a blur resulting from looking at the wrong place.

Joon Jang

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