It was a pretty simple assignment, students were to choose a famous painting: Picasso’s “Le Reve,” or Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” or Munch’s “The Scream,” and copy it somehow using any means necessary… colored pencils, crayons, toothpicks, macaroni shells, clay, digital photography, etc. Then the students were to display their art and explain what difficulties they faced in re-creating it.
Of course, the whole assignment is to force students to reflect upon the nature of originality, to acknowledge different ways we copy others in society, but it’s also to begin a conversation on recognizing a masterpiece. What makes something truly great? Is it just because it’s famous or because no one else could ever do it? Or is there more?
In preparing for this assignment I was reading the amazing, “The Art Forger’s Handbook,” by master forgery, Eric Hebborn, a British man back in the 1990's who boasted how easily it was to copy famous painting and sketches and pass them off as originals, fooling some of the great art critics of his time and bilking buyers for millions. The book caused a sensation, mostly for how brazen Hebborn was in admitting the depths of his criminal abilities. Shortly after the book’s publication, Hebborn’s body was found lying in the streets of Rome, his skull crushed with blunt force.