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May 5, 2017 / Congau

Intangible Art

Art is idea. Art is never physical. The volume of Shakespeare’s work that I have in my shelf is not Shakespeare’s work. I could burn that particular copy, but the ideas of the great bard would in no way be touched. Beethoven is not in the violins. Any movie may exist in thousands of copies and none of them is the real movie any more than any other.

A painting… well, this seems to be a special case. There are myriads of copies of Mona Lisa, but there appears to be only one that is the real thing: the one that hangs in Louvre in Paris. All reproductions of it, all photographs, even if they give an exact representation of the original, have not much value. They are printed on paper that can be torn up without any loss, but that original in Louvre is worth millions.

However, there is something potentially deceptive here. Is it really the artwork itself that is so incredibly valuable? That piece of canvas was once touched by the great artist Leonardo da Vinci and upon it he realized the idea of the woman with the mystic smile. Of course that physical object must be incredible valuable. It is one of the most famous cultural artifacts in the world, but it is as such that it is valuable, not as art. Suppose that painting in Louvre was severely damaged, the colors faded and the lines blurred. Then all the copies of it that already existed would give a better art experience than the original, but it would still be immensely valuable and the multiple copies would still be worth next to nothing.

Physical objects from the past are often worth a lot of money even if no one claims that it has artistic value. A laundry list written by da Vinci would for sure be sold for a high price at auctions. Historical museums are full of valuable objects that are not art and things that belonged to famous men or carry historical memory are often priced even higher than great art.

It confuses us that artworks become so valuable in terms of money, but that is as collectors’ pieces and not as art as such.

Great art doesn’t really exist in the object it was first attached to, so there can be no essential difference between art that occur in multiple instances and singular works of art. Art is not in the thing. Art is just idea.

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