Terms in the art world can be confusing. Here’s some information about fakes, forgeries, and parodies in the world of art.
We’ll start with forgeries. Generally the word “forgery” is associated with someone trying to deceive someone else. If someone creates a forgery of a famous lost Leonardo da Vinci painting and then tries to sell it for millions of dollars, that would be considered fraud. A key with a forgery is that the artist is trying their very best to get every last detail right, so there is no “tell” that the forgery is inauthentic. This means the size needs to be exactly right. The types of paints used would need to be exactly right. Someone generally wouldn’t try to forge a Caravaggio but use acrylic paints (which didn’t exist back then).
There is a market for “legal forgeries”, though. Sometimes the owner of a famous piece enjoys the piece immensely but doesn’t want to risk having the actual artwork in their home for theft or environmental damage reasons. So they keep the original piece in a temperature controlled, humidity controlled safe and have a high-end forgery on their wall to enjoy on a daily basis. Here’s an article which talks about a professional forger who does this sort of thing.
How Easy is it to Copy a Famous Painting?
Many of us have seen posters of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” in WalMart and Michael’s. These are not even remotely trying to be a forgery of the original painting. They are simply reproductions so that average human beings can enjoy the artwork in their own homes. These are generally called fakes. They can range from $1.99 posters to $200 framed and nicely done versions. Few people would look at one of these and think they’re the real thing. They are duplicates. Still, they bring us pleasure to look at.
One of the challenges with these fakes is that people have enjoyed fakes for thousands of years. And if a “fake” was done in 1609 of a famous painting, by the time we get to 2019 it can be really hard to tell one from the other, if the fake was well done. Both are vintage canvas with vintage paints. Both could have near-identical brushstrokes. So while the duplicate painting may never have begun life intended as a forgery, it can blur the line later in its lifetime.
A parody is where the new work is clearly different from the old one. It’s done to make fun of or to enjoy a twist on the original work of art. Just google “Munch The Scream Parody” and look at the hundreds of versions of Munch’s famous painting which have been created. Because that original painting is far out of copyright, it’s fair game.
Note that there is a gray area with artworks which are IN copyright which says you can parody them, but some artists don’t take kindly to this. So unless you have a good lawyer to argue your side, it’s best to stick to parodying artwork which is out of copyright. That generally means something created before 1923.
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