Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Work of Art in the Age of My Cell Phone

Sunday's New York Times magazine had an interesting article about museums making digital versions of masterpieces. The article turned on the idea of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts' new fund raising idea: they sell little images of their artworks as cell phone wallpapers. I thought it sounded pretty cheesy when I read about it, but then I went to the site and saw this image.

Oni at a Barbershop from the series The Popularization of Civilization
Kitazawa Rakuten

Late Meiji era, 1905
Color lithograph; ink on card stock
Overall: 8.8 x 13.8 cm (3 7/16 x 5 7/16 in.)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Leonard A. Lauder Collection of Japanese Postcards

I want it. And it's not the only one I want, to tell the truth- there are lots of nice ones, and I want them all. It turns out I have no problem with having a tiny digitized masterpiece on my cellphone.

I don't feel as sanguine about the other example of masterpiece digitization cited in the article. The image in question, The Last Supper, is one that I've never seen outside of a reproduction in any case, but this latest reproduction has gone too far. There is a website that shows DaVinci's Last Supper in amazing fly-eye-view high resolution: one can zoom in to an astounding degree and see individual paint flakes. It's fun, but it definitely offends the original. But that's because of the music. Check it out.

Rakuten Kitazawa, who made the image that I need for my cell phone, is called the father of anime. He was an early cartoonist in Japan who, among other things, worked for an American comic magazine called "Box of Curious." You can read more about him here.