What we know about an artwork's history changes our enjoyment of it

This morning we watched an insightful and entertaining look at why people like original paintings better than an identical forgery.  In this TED talk Paul Bloom argues that our beliefs about the history of an object change how experience it. And not just as an illusion but a deep measurable change in the way our brain feels pleasure viewing art.

How do we respond when the artworks may look the same but they have a different origin?  Pyschologists have argued that we care so much about origins because we are snobs, as Bloom says "we are focused on status".  So owning a handmade limited edition print is more prestigious than owning a reproduction of the same image because there are always going to be fewer original prints available to buy. Although Bloom doesn't doubt that this does play some role he believes humans are also to some extent "natural born essentialists".   He means we don't just respond to art in the way that we see it, our response is also conditioned on our beliefs about "what they really are, where they came from, what they are made of, what their hidden nature is".  You can own something that looks exactly the same as another artwork but it doesn't have the same history so your respond differently to it. 

Bloom quotes Christchurch philosopher of art Denis Dutton (whom we have featured in NZ Art Print News previously) who wrote "the value of an artwork is rooted in assumptions about the human performance underlying its creation".   Bloom's argument would be that owning an orginal print (which is the product of a creative act, knowledge of materials and technical skill) means the buyer will get a deeper pleasure from owning it than a poster of the same print.   If they were told that it was not an original print their pleasure in owning it would diminish (a case in point is Dick Frizzell's Mickey to Tiki lithograph which was reproduced with the edition number 5/50 on it, occasionally we have been contacted by people given this print as a gift whose pleasure in the gift is lessened when they are told that it is a reproduction although it looks identical to the original print).

It's an interesting question if choosing artworks with a meaningful history - even if they are "reproductions" - can have still give you a deeper pleasure. For instance if you collect only prints by quality artists or fine examples of the best paintings from New Zealand.  NZ Fine Prints try and stock only meaningful artwork, we have never understood the part of the market where custuomers are looking to buy art to "match the curtains".  I guess this touches on the prestige or snobbish element of art ownership alluded to by Bloom as a motivation of buying artwork for your home or office because your choice of art is a way of demonstrating to others your degree of artistic sophistication or level of art appreciation.  But for Prints.co.nz making a distinction between meaningful art and pure decoration is a way of helping us decide what we choose to stock at a "fine art" print specialist.


  1. I have yet to start building my collection of art for our home although I have started the process of negotiating with my partner our differences in taste to find an overlap where each can live with the others' art.

    I'm big on meaning and dislike abstract art on principle but that doesn't meant I won't appreciate abstract art if it means something to me, if it invokes an emotion, reminds me of something, helps me escape to another place or puts a smile on my face. Whilst any meaning the artist imparted is interesting it isn't as important to me as the meaning I create for myself.

    When it comes down to reproductions vs originals the only difference I really consider is that the texture of an oil painting is often more interesting and charming than a flat print - but that's about it and because I don't have the budget for originals then I am absolutely content to own prints instead.

    I don't really mind if a thousand people across the world own a reproduction of the same piece ... this one is mine and the meaning I have created for that piece is unique to me.

    I wonder if people think the same way regarding music - that hearing something live is more 'authentic' than hearing a recording on vinyl or a CD? To me the essence is still there - it's just the experience differs ... and some people prefer to listen to music in the car than attend a rock concert.

    1. Make sense to me Nathanael, check out my work then if you like allegory in your art, www.liambarr.com