The devaluation of original art

This article came across my radar today.  This is awful! Art “reproductions” are being created in assembly-line fashion by the millions in China and sold for ~$35. How are legitimate artists outside China supposed to compete with that in order to make a living?

This kind of operation devalues all original art by lesser-known artists. A consumer could argue “Why should I pay $1000 for your original painting of a poppy, when I can go to a chain art-and-frame store and buy something similar-looking that’s also hand-painted and is a copy of an artwork by a well-known artist, for $75 on sale?”

This prompted a lively discussion among friends.  One challenged me: “‘Why should I pay $1000…’ Good question. What’s your answer?”

My response: You’re paying for my vision, my skills and my time to create a one-of-a-kind artwork that speaks to you. No one else in the world will have this original. Instead of being worth $5 at a garage sale someday, it has the potential to go *up* in value.

This mass reproduction of art, made to be sold as “original” simply because there’s paint on the surface, is analogous to the rise of CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) to produce meat, chicken, milk and eggs: mass production on an enormous scale brings down the prices but also greatly reduces the quality, whether consumers fully realize it or not. Global agribusiness corporations have convinced millions of people through sheer volume that the flavor of their animal products are what they’re supposed to taste like. But they’re not–when raised and fed the right way, these products taste much better and are more nutritious. So now we must pay a huge premium to get “organic” products and enjoy that taste again. And people who are accustomed to the CAFO-produced products say in ignorance “Why should I pay $8 for a dozen eggs when I can pay $3 for eggs that do just fine?”

The difference, of course, is that animal products are consumables–food–while art is purely aesthetic. But they are both cheapened by mass production. I’m not talking about prints of originals. I’m talking about fakes.

Please remember this whenever you visit an art festival or show!  Art is a hobby for some, but for many it’s also a living.  Whether an artwork was created for enjoyment or for sale, if it speaks to you then it is worth something significant.  That’s value.  The original artist’s passion is absent in a fake produced by a set of painters who each specialize in just one aspect of the process and may not even know anything about the artist or his/her work.

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