USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Age of Accessibility and Notion of Authenticity

Advancement of technology and the great sense of virtual connectivity, secured by the Internet, have seemingly brought everything within our reach.  You no longer need to go to the Louvre museum to see Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.  You could simply go online and look at a virtual copy of it.  You can even print out a high quality picture of it and hang it up in your living room if you want.  Technology has influenced the daily life of average people and has provided households with tools that facilitate access and connectivity.  These advancements have dramatically changed our culture.  The fact that an average person could go online and connect to almost anywhere in the globe, access a load of information, and even add information and his/her interpretation to the pool of data online, really blurs the ideas of authenticity of ideas and information.  Also, the fact that most common people have access to tools that allow for production and reproduction of works of art redefines issues of copyright.  Downloading movies and music off the Internet is an example of that.  Nowadays many people have the capability of illegally downloading almost any songs or recently released films.  So issues of copyright start to become about refraining from an activity that you otherwise, with a little bit of effort, have the capacity of doing.  Again this is an outcome of providing average people with efficient and easy-to-use tools at their disposal.  But what one might find intriguing is the extent to which reproduction of an artwork diminishes the value of the artifact.  Also, how accurately could one describe what is fake or what is real?  Is copied article or a fake-real object without merit? 

ImageDafen village, in Shenzhen China, is a great phenomenon to study.  This community is mainly made up of artists whose occupations are replicating famous paintings of artists around the world, especially westerners.  Looking at classical western art the value of the artifact was embedded in accurately and realistically depicting the subject matter and in doing so creating your own style and technique.  In case of modern art the value of the work is understood in terms of the message the artist is trying to convey through the piece and, in many cases, the process of making that piece starts to have more importance than the final outcome.  In the contrary to western art, what Dafen village artists are doing is not about originality of the artwork or the inserted message.  Their skill lays in their astonishing ability to replicate.  This is what distinctively sets western and Dafen village artists apart.  One could argue that original artists of some of the reproduced paintings you would see in the village perhaps could not have replicated their work as accurately as these community based artists. An idea that really appealed to me is the way these local artists go about dealing with the issue of copyright.  The Dafen village artists are all trained to copy a certain style or even a certain element in a painting (the eyes, the beard, etc.).  So when producing a painting a number of these artists participate at the same time each drawing only a portion of the piece.  The fact that the painting is reproduced through collaboration of multiple artists and not just one person is a loophole in dealing with copyright issues.  The works of these artists really start to question the notion of authenticity and copyright.

According to Walter Benjamin’s essay The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction “reproduction of work of art jeopardizes its authenticity and authority”. But at the same time Dafen artists do not mechanically reproduce these famous artworks.  The fact that these articles are painted by hand part of the painter’s soul gets engrained in the object through the process.  In a way, the larger effect of the reproduced art in Dafen village is that it dilutes the halo of inviolability that surrounds the iconic artworks of our time, such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, or Claude Monet’s Water Lilies.  In other words, it makes art more accessible to public and great pieces of art are no longer that untouchable mystery.  I tend to agree with Mr. Benjamin when he said “even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element:  its presence in time and space.” Yet what lends value to reproduced paintings of Dafen village is not their originality or authenticity but the mastery of these artists at the art of non-mechanical flawless duplication.




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Dafen Village Artist

Dafen Village Artist

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The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu