Marja-Leena Rathje
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'original' copies

Art factories in China aren't news to me, but this really blew my mind:

There are no sticky ethical problems involved in the booming trade. As long as the Dafen copy artist does not forge a signature or try to pass her work off as an original, there are no legal implications.

Please read Masters of imitation - Painters in Dafen artist colony churn out reproductions of classics, by Aileen McCabe for the Vancouver Sun.

Are you as disturbed by this as I am? Of course, one can go to any art museum and poster shop and get mass printed copies of Van Gogh's Sunflowers and many other famous works. Is it the same, worse or better? I'm also concerned about the factories that do pass off copies of originals, even of works by living artists. Just thinking about all this opens a large mental can of worms for me - perhaps that's the intent of the article?

Marja-Leena | 22/07/2010 | 7 comments
themes: Being an Artist, Concepts


I do not like the sound of that a bit. It's enough with those factories already in China and Taiwan, we don't need any more.

What the message is, though, is that not even modernism has reached people. After a century!!!

Art education should be boosted everywhere and fast!

I can't believe I'm about to write this, but...

While you raise a valid ethical question, I cannot fault the art copiers in Dafen, whose standard of living is still dismal compared to those who buy their output. Without a demand, there would be little supply.

We could boycott all "art" from the factories, but as long as there is a demand for hand-painted copies of famous or popular artworks, there will always be factories, whether in China or Taiwan or Peru or any other country where labor is cheap and great profits are to be made.

Look at the Americans who have "borrowed" the art of Oaxacan folk artists, to the detriment of sales of their (Oaxacan's) work. Or the non-Native artists who have replicated Native People's/indigenous art all over the world. It would be one thing to have one's art influenced by other artist's works, such as those who paint in the Impressionists' style, for instance, but to co-opt another cultures' works as your own - well, it rubs me the wrong way, too.

So, what do we do about this? And, are we protecting Van Gogh and Degas, or are we trying to keep our art, our works from being pirated? For that matter, who really owns art, the elements, the 'vocabulary?'

Can of worms is an accurate assessment, Marja-Leena, and I think the solution has to lie with the consumers who demand these 'works of art.'

And the weavers in Teotilan near Oaxaca who have copied native American designs in their rugs...and on and on. Though startled and put off on first encountering the copy artists in China, further reflection leads to sadness that there has been so little appreciation of their own history of art. Except around government supported, tourist-enticing things like the terra cotta soldiers in Xian.

The Chinese continue to be an impoverished people even with more material wealth, better living conditions.

Your other commenters definitely have the right perspective on this dismaying issue. The fact that China has, for all practical purposes, a slave labor work force involved in making real products for trans-national corporations at the lowest possible price, makes the story about selling genuine paintings that are copies of famous originals of smaller concern.

Thank you all for your excellent comments. It's a complicated issue at so many levels and ultimately it is 'buyer beware'. Art education is certainly very important in making people understand what original art really is and to value authenticity and true culture. Unfortunately many don't care as long as they get the copy cheap and thus cheap labour provides that. And it happens in a lot of third world countries, not just in China, for these workers are just trying to survive. Something's terribly wrong with this picture!

Thanks for this thought provoking article. I'm interested in what you have to say and what other commenters have said, and I agree about the poverty of the Chinese. There is a lot to this question. I am going to try to write more on it soon.

Anne, I look forward to your writing about this!