After literature and music, fine art remains the last bastion of cultural elitism. Arguably, the centralization of paintings and sculptures by the world’s best artists in private collections has robbed society of emotional growth. How much longer will we tolerate this egotistical crime against humanity? Today, emerging internet technologies not only enable permissionless innovation but also provide tools for people to both create and copy culture in ways that cannot be censored. Like a Beethoven recording, soon everyone can own a Picasso.
“The best music in the world performed by the best performers can be easily and inexpensively enjoyed and owned by anyone anywhere. Not so in the visual arts.” — Ben Rose
The ‘Pirate Bay’ of Art
When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, he imagined many different applications, but recording music wasn’t one of them. Today, we use 3D printing technology for personalized smartphone covers, plastic narcissism or, more meaningfully, medical equipment. However, an overlooked application may lie in fine art replicas so perfect not even academics can spot the difference. For example, 3D printed paintings can have a three-dimensional relief, thereby for the first time allowing Van Gogh connoisseurs to trace the maestro’s brush strokes with their own fingertips without damaging the physical original. High-quality replicas can make art a much more emotionally engaging experience.
In the near future, the idea of an original painting will become as meaningful as an original Bach performance. For the same reason, Bach codified his masterpieces in musical notation, we can now use 3D scans to codify art, archaeological artifacts or even architecture into digital models. Such perfect renderings of the physical world capture artists’ spirits in a reproducible manner, and in doing so we make art permissionless because the digitized ‘aesthetic originals’ can be shared through peer-to-peer networks no government or authority can censure. The ‘Pirate Bay’ of art will forever decentralize private collections, allowing anyone to own a pitch-perfect Picasso or cast-iron Rodin.
A Decentralized World Museum
Art was never meant to be locked away in private collections for the sole enjoyment of the highest-bidding Silicon Valley tycoons, Russian billionaires or enlightened oil sheiks. Works of art breathe emotions intended for all mankind. Sadly, “today, museums are being priced out of the art-acquisition market by the soaring prices for works by the top artists,” writes Ben Rose for Huffington Post.
For this reason, professor Edward Banfield suggested filling museums with fakes. Original artworks could then be sold into private collections while the masses would still be able to enjoy the world’s finest paintings and sculptures. That suggestion came over half a century ago, but neither technology nor society was ready. Perhaps we are ready now. Museums of the future may prefer living walls and liquid floors (à la T1000) that can replicate in real-time any sculpture or painting from a decentralized ledger of world art, including the finest classical works, modern contraptions or even chimp art. At the very least, future museum collection directors won’t have to limit themselves to what they can afford.
“People who sneer at a very good reproduction of a painting will praise a far inferior reproduction of a symphony.” — Edward Banfield
Allowing perfect replica’s in the visual arts offers one more valuable benefit: immortalizing culture. Despite the most advanced preservation techniques, physical originals don’t last forever. Fires, floods, and earthquakes will continue to destroy human heritage. By building a decentralized ledger of digitized artworks we preserve art indefinitely, and by disseminating art in millions of redundant copies using the internet, we also defend art against acts of barbarism, such as the deliberate destruction of ancient archaeological sites.
In a digitized form, we can even preserve the pyramids of Egypt for all eternity. Future art historians and archaeologists won’t have to glue together shards of broken vases. Instead, they’ll be able to replicate our culture’s artworks stroke for stroke, or take guided tours through virtual museums we leave behind. We can send numerous copies of our artistic legacy into space. So even if we keep the worst to ourselves, we give the universe our best.