Art and Internet: Blessing the Curse? - Essay

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Art and Internet: Blessing the Curse?∗
Patrick Legros ECARES, Université Libre de Bruxelles and CEPR February 1, 2005

“Beauty, however, in its general aspect, is the inseparable characteristic of the idea when it has become known. In other words, everything is beautiful in which an idea is revealed; for to be beautiful means no more than clearly to express an idea.” — Schopenhauer (2004-eBook edition) “In the last analysis, the artist may shout from all the rooftops that he is a genius: he will have to wait for the verdict of the spectator in order that his declarations take a social value and that, finally, posterity includes him in the primers of Artist History.” — Marcel Duchamp (1966)

1. Introduction
At the time photography was invented, the technology was expensive, difficult to use and required specialized skills and craftsmanship. Because many painters at the time were doing portraits, they saw the danger of the new technology for their activity. The folk history credits the painter Paul Delaroche to have said after seeing the Daguerreotype “from today, painting is dead”.1 Other artists embraced the opportunity to use the new medium and indeed, a movement developed quickly that defined photography as art. ∗

Many thanks to Victor Ginsburgh for his patient editorial work and for convincing me that econo-

mists should be interested in arts. I benefited from comments by William Baumol and Andrew Newman. 1

Some historians of photography like Robert Leggat (1999) claim that in fact Delaroche was a

supporter of photography. He had been commissioned by the French government to present a report

When George Eastman invented the “clic-clac Kodak” in 1868, photography became widely accessible; while there were some issues of craftsmanship, the act of taking a picture became trivial enough that it took effort by photographic artists to preserve their identity. Some have argued that the pictorial movement emerged in response to this democratization of the access to the technology. The recent emergence of digital photography has made the marginal cost of taking and viewing pictures rather trivial; despite this democratization of the technology, photography as an art form is still alive, present in large museums and taught in art departments in prestigious universities. Before the Gutemberg press, the church had a monopoly on the stock of original writings and monks were the main artisans for reproducing these works, often by using techniques and crafts that required years of training. The Gutemberg press rendered this craftsmanship unnecessary for copying or for production of new books.2 The emergence of new technologies is therefore both a blessing and a curse for art. The blessing is that more opportunities for artistic creation are available. The curse is that more people have access to it. It is a curse because issues of craftsmanship tend to be less important, and a work of art may now have to be distinguished from its look alike by another dimension than craftsmanship. That aesthetics or craftsmanship is not a necessary characteristic of a work of art is well espoused by philosophers and artists.3 Duchamp’s Readymades are an extreme illustration of this since common objects like a urinal, a bicycle wheel or a snow shovel can become works of art. When art is not necessarily linked to aesthetics, the definition of art becomes somewhat of a challenge. While economists are ill equipped to philosophize on art, they and scientists in general are also in the business of creating ideas, and transmitting these ideas to peers and the public at large. In a modest, or probably immodest way, this activity is sometimes on the Daguerreotype where he wrote “Daguerre’s process completely satisfies all the demands of art, carrying essential principles of art to such perfection that it must become a subject of observation and study even to the most accomplished painters.” 2 3

See chapter 19 by Benhamou and Ginsburgh on...
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