Ever dream about owning your very own van Gogh? Well, of course we’d all like to think that our JDs will grant us the sort of spending power to be able to afford multimillion-dollar masterpieces at Christie’s auctions (while sipping on a cool glass of Dom Perignon). The reality, sadly, is that the closest any of us will come to such a painting is paying admission to see it in a museum. But maybe reality is not so bleak, given the advancing technology that is 3D printing.
In late March, the NYU Art Law Society hosted its spring panel, “3D Printing Meets the Arts: Reproduction and Authenticity.” Moderated by Emily Kempin Professor of Law Amy Adler, the panel featured attorneys from Pryor Cashman LLP and Bronson Lipsky LLP—James R. Klaiber and Britton Payne, respectively; Natalia Krasnodebska, the community manager of Shapeways, a 3D printing service headquartered in Long Island City; and Ashley Zelinskie, a Brooklyn artist and resident at New Inc. In front of the panelists stood small 3D printed figurines, chief among them being Left Shark.
So what exactly is 3D printing, you might be wondering? Essentially, it works in many ways like a photocopier. Krasnodebska explained that the multimillion-dollar machines housed at Spaceways basically take a computer-generated image and print a 3D rendering based on complex codes and numerical sequences. So, for example, while the bona fide Almond Blossom series by van Gogh would run you in the millions, an exact replica that could be reproduced by such machines could run you a mere fraction of the price at $25,000.
This, of course, begged two major questions: 1) When does printing another artist’s work cross over into plagiarism and infringement on creative rights, and 2) why do we want “the real thing”? Spaceways itself has faced challenges with the first question. From artists wanting to reproduce My Little Pony figurines to Success Kid Meme’s actual mom demanding revenue sharing for the reproduction of her son’s image, 3D printing does not come without its host of complex legal issues as the worlds of reproduction and creative reinterpretation blend. For artists like Zelinskie, however, there is no difference between Bernini carving marble and an artist like herself plugging codes into a complicated system to reinterpret Warhol’s Brillo Soap Pads Box. Both require technical mastery: one of the hand’s ability to shape marble, and the other of the mind’s ability to master sequencing and what physics will allow a printer to make free-standing.
Thus, is there any real difference between an art student sketching at the Met and “sketching” into the 3D printing system? If students don’t require design patents for their work, why should an artist doing the same through the medium of a 3D printer be contemplating acquiring one? It’ll be interesting to see this field unfold as 3D printing continues to gain force and create ever deeper fissures in the art world. In the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming of auctions and Dom to carry me through finals.