Original art vs Reproduction

The above photo shows the aftermath of my dining room table once I was done painting 2 copies of an icon. One copy I gave to my dad for his birthday, the other I painted for myself once I realized that I wanted a copy of the icon that I was working on for my dad. Dad’s copy was slightly smaller than mine, not out of greed but because I knew the size limitations of what he would hang on the wall of his house. This icon started with him asking me if there was an icon of his patron saint, something that he had never asked me in over 15 years of icon painting. What ensued became a family icon with the icons of my parents patron saints, my patron saint, my sisters patron saint and the patron saints of each of my grandparents, all wrapped around an icon of the Mother of God. This photo shows the very end of painting the icon, but if you look real closely under the circle maker to the bottom right of the photo you will also see 2 icon prints.

Years ago I had an ongoing conversation with a priest who was convinced that there is no ontological difference, difference in essence, between an original icon and a print. This priest was convinced that because there have been a few recent miracles involving prints of icons that icon prints have the same spiritual value as original hand painted icons. As an artist I am convinced this is anything but true. Whether you are talking about a Byzantine Icon, a painting, or any other form of art, the original which is produced by the artist always has a much higher intrinsic value than a machine made reproduction of the art. What follows is not a perfectly spelled out proof of why a person should highly consider getting an original piece of art from an artist rather than a print, but rather some quick thoughts on the subject.

We will start with the most obvious reason why you should buy an original piece of art and not a reproduction: it supports the artist. Sure, when you buy a print or other reproduction from an artist you are giving them money for their work, but not at the same level as when you buy an original piece from them. Selling a print might enable an artist to get a tank of gas or buy themselves lunch that afternoon whereas having an original commissioned from them will enable them to pay their rent, utilities, or other bills, and maybe even have some money left over to buy new materials to experiment with. Very few artists get rich from their work. Most of us do not charge nearly for our work what it is truly valued at out of fear that no one would pay what it is worth. Thus getting commissions for original pieces is often very helpful to an artist in meeting their daily living expenses.

The next reason you should buy original art and not a reproduction is originals are tactile. No matter how high the resolution is on a camera, it can not capture the texture of the gold, of the paint, of the smoothness of an icon panel. A camera can not capture subtle layers of thinly applied paint layered on top of each other because the camera makes each of these layers blend together, and then transfers that blending of the layers to the printing process. Likewise if you are looking at an oil painting, the camera can not capture the texture of the oils and transfer that texture to the print that is made. Likewise, no matter how good the recording is, a recording of music is not the same as hearing it performed live. The first time I heard Beethoven’s 9th performed live it brought chills to my spine in a way that listening to it on CD never did. In spite of what the famous ad campaign from the late 80's suggested, you can tell the difference between if it is live or if it is Memorex.

Original works of art are one of a kind, no two are exactly a like. I know this sounds like commonsense, but it is a point that must be made. When you buy a print of a painting, you are buying a copy of it that many other people will have. But when you commission an original piece, you are getting a one of a kind work. Even if I was to take the exact same pattern and paint two copies of it, each one would have slight differences. One might have a slightly darker tone in one of the pigments used, or the other might have a slightly more pleasing shape to a line on it. The same is even more true with music. When listening to live music no matter how precise the musician performs, there will always be subtle nuances that you can pick up on which you never noticed before. There is an intrinsic value to the uniqueness of original art that can not be replicated by even the highest quality replicas.

Finally, original pieces are hand made, and being hand made contain the thoughts, prayers, energy of the artist while they were creating the work. Especially when you are dealing with Byzantine Iconography, which is considered a prayerful art form, this is incredibly important. Many iconographers will tell you that what makes an icon and icon are the prayers that are being prayed while the icon is being painted. Even if we are not discussing iconography and rather discussing art, be it modern or classical, the original piece of art contains the thoughts, prayers and energy the artist put in to the creation of the piece. David Hawkins points this fact out in “Power vs Force” that original art has the energy of the artist in it, while the copy is just a copy of the art and does not contain the artists energy. One of the greatest compliments I ever got from a client was when he posted on Facebook “We have never met Michael, but because of the number of his icons that we have (both original and mounted prints) we feel that he is a member of our family.” When you get an original piece of art from an artist what you are actually getting is a piece of their soul.

I am an artist and photographer who is slowly working at peeling back the layers of life in order to open myself up to newer and more fluent creativity.