Portia de Rossi at General Public studios

The word “democratization” is often used when it comes to 3D printing. The technology democratizes creation and production, allowing people to create and customize their own products rather than buying them. A big selling point of the technology is that it makes what was once the providence of large corporations accessible to the general public – and General Public, actress Portia de Rossi’s new company, wants to do exactly that. Namely, the company intends to use 3D printing to make art collection accessible to the masses, rather than just the elite.

General Public uses a technology called Synography, developed by de Rossi with Fujifilm, which uses 3D printing to reproduce the texture and brushstrokes of a painting, rather than just a flat copy. She describes the original painting as a “sculpture mold,” from which multiple copies can be made. She also compares it to a copy of a photograph. With photography, nothing is lost in the transition from original to reproduction, unlike paintings, which lose their texture and a lot of their “realness” when transformed into a 2D print. Synography preserves that realness, letting the actual touch of the artist’s hand come out in the brush strokes and texture of the paint.

3D printed copies of paintings are unusual, though not brand new, which is why General Public’s approach may take some by surprise, at least at first. Much has been debated about the ethics of using 3D printing to reproduce art, but when it comes down to it, how is a 3D printed sculpture or painting any different than a molded reproduction of a famous sculpture sold in a museum gift shop, or a 2D print of a painting? The original will always have value for being the original, for being actually touched and brought into being by the artist, and de Rossi said that the response from artists to General Public has mostly been positive so far.

Synograph of Mark Davies’ Red Line

“We see the Synograph as an upgrade on traditional, flat, poster-like printing; it isn’t competing with an original,” she told artnet. “However, I do hope that the Synograph changes the way we look at art. A novel isn’t any less brilliant because there are thousands of copies in circulation. My goal is that the Synograph shakes up the antiquated idea that scarcity is how we should value art. It should be valuable because it’s good, not because it’s rare.”

General Public’s motto is “Support artists, not art,” although that is a bit misleading – the company is all about art appreciation, and a more fitting motto might be “support artists and art, not gallery owners.” Will a business like this one hurt galleries and museum owners? That’s unlikely, I believe; people are still blown away by original copies of novels even though, like de Rossi said, there may be thousands of copies out there. A work of art that has come directly from its creator’s hands has a sort of magic about it, something that makes people feel as though they’re standing in the presence of brilliance even though the artist may be long gone.

Synograph of Sarah Bird’s Inkberry Holly

No one protests the restored recordings whose sound quality lets you hear every creak in the recording studio, every breath of the artist, and painting really is the only medium that hasn’t been reproduced to that point of closeness to the original.

“As an artist myself, I have watched every other art form use technology to cut out the middleman, democratize art, and empower the artist,” de Rossi said. “For example, the printing press and the internet have revolutionized writing; the phonograph and the MP3 have revolutionized music. And yet painters’ careers are still controlled by gallerists. I want painters to have the ability to sell editions of their paintings to maximize their profitability. I also want the folks who really appreciate these artists to be able to own and enjoy their works as the artist intended them to be enjoyed and not just the wealthy few.”

General Public offers an eclectic mix of prints, including both emerging and established artists as well as art in the public domain and anonymous flea market paintings. The reproductions still aren’t cheap – about $1,000 on average, but that’s pocket change compared to an original.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source: artnet / Images: General Public]

 

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