This post began life as a musing on Robert Irwin’s not permitting reproductions of his (abstract) paintings, detailed in a statement in the catalog of his recent show in San Diego. The catalog, of course, is loaded with photographs, including ones of his early paintings, though many could be considered installation views rather than “reproductions.” (As far as I can tell, Irwin has less objection to photographs of his more recent work, despite its contextual and perceptual nature, seemingly much less representable via photography.)


But then I started wondering about the broader question of our willingness to settle for imperfect, incomplete, and often unsatisfying versions of works of art of all kinds: paintings, sculpture, music, theater, and yes, even photographs. Don’t we constantly tolerate inferior prints, recordings, performances, etc? Indeed, how could we live without them? How would we even learn enough to develop an interest in the originals?


I can understand an artist wanting to control encounters with their artwork, but isn’t contempt for inferior reproductions also a sort of contempt for the viewer or listener? Can’t we be trusted to realize that, say, a Rothko is a much greater accomplishment than it appears in that little jpeg on the web?

How far are you willing to descend in accepting low-quality versions of high-quality art?