Copies of Artworks: The Case of Paintings and Prints
In his essay on imitation in the arts, Adam Smith considers that the exact copy of an artwork always deserves less merit than the original. But the hierarchy between copies and originals has changed over time. So has the perception of copies by lawyers, philosophers, art historians and curators. The development of a market for copies is part of a wider contemporary questioning of the boundaries between originality and copy. We analyze whether and how the various actors in the art market (artists, collectors, lawyers, curators, art historians and philosophers) contribute to valuing and creating or, at times, to killing copies. Artists and collectors have never belittled copies. Art historians think that copies have an important role in preserving the memory of lost artworks, and in educating young artists, but nevertheless consider copies better left to the reserves of museums. Lawyers are ambivalent and judicial precedents bear testimony to the ambiguous legal status of copies. Contemporary art historians and art philosophers have influenced curators and museums to organize exhibitions that make use of copies, giving them a new life.
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