Monday, June 05, 2006

Good & Plenty

Tyler Cowen's well worth reading Good & Plenty includes the following interesting discussion of how the Internet has affected the visual arts:

"To date the visual arts have not experienced serious copyright problems with the Internet. Many individuals post unauthorized copies of paintings and other artworks, but these copies have not disrupted the markets for the originals. The difference in market value between an original artwork, even a print, and a digital copy of that artwork remains enormous. In contrast copies of literature or recorded music are worth almost as much as the original."

But, he adds, "we nonetheless can imagine a more distant future when [technology] allows for the very accurate reproduction of visual artworks." What happens when people can easily have "their own copies of the Mona Lisa or of a Monet haystack painting" that is "indistinguishable from the original to the naked eye"?

His answer is that it "would not spell doom for the art world." First, the original would probably still be worth much more than the copy: "The price difference between an original artwork and a copy, even a very good copy, is significant. Experts have been fooled many times by artistic copies, frauds, and forgeries. But once an artwork is revealed to be nonauthentic, its value plummets immediately . . . . Buyers care about the aura of the original and its symbolic value, even when they cannot tell the difference between the real and the copy."

He goes on to speculate, to my mind less persuasively, about the possibility that the difference in value between fakes and real artworks might disappear or at least narrow over time.

The book is available here. Cowen's (excellent) blog, which often touches on arts issues (for example), is here.