My brother Scott had a rather large painting that was prominently displayed in his living room. Like most of the artwork that hung in his home it was of the impressionist style. Works by impressionist artists feature rather ordinary subject matter, accurate light depiction, and subject movement. I too enjoy the works created by impressionist artists, with my taste gravitating to the works of Claude Monet. It appeared to me that Scott’s particular favorite artist was Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as there were several reproductions of Renoir paintings in his collection – Girls at the Piano, A Girl with Watering Can, Pink and Blue, Dance at Bougival – all of which now hang in my home. But, the biggest painting, the one that he loved the most, was a reproduction of the 1876 Dance at moulin de la Galette. So large was this painting in it’s rather beautifully golden carved wood frame that my arm span could not reach both sides of the frame. I cannot even begin to imagine the value of the original painting, which hangs in the Musee d’Orsay. I do know the value of the painting that Scott had commissioned, as I ran across the receipt tucked away in a file folder after he died – and I was shocked to learn that he paid, what I consider, an extraordinary amount of money for this reproduction. Yes, it was a great reproduction, and it’s obvious that the artist who reproduced this piece poured so much themselves into painstakingly re-creating this particular masterpiece. Scott’s version of this masterpiece now hangs in the home of one of his friends – a lovely, generous gesture on his part.
It’s nice that artists strive to reproduce great works of art so that people such as my brother, myself, and others can enjoy them. I simply cannot easily hop on an airplane so that I can feast my eyes on this celebrated painting hanging in a museum thousands of miles away. But, as beautiful as this particular reproduction painting is that Scott had commissioned – it is still a reproduction. It’s not the original. The original is so good, so magnificent, that countless other artists work hard – very, very, hard to copy it. They want to master Renior’s technique, they consume themselves with studying the light composition, the brush strokes, and the movement that Renoir so aptly captured. It’s safe for me to say, that many an artist works to emulate Renoir. However, I wonder just how they reproduce these masterpieces. I am guessing that the Musee d’Orsay does not let the reproduction artist set up shop in the gallery so that they can get an up close and personal view while painting their version. They themselves must be working from some sort of reproduction – whether it’s on canvas, a photograph, or in a digital format.
Our world is full of reproductions. I think that we all strive to copy one thing or another. For some it’s watching movie stars, reality television shows, sports personalities, and the like. We watch what they do, what they wear, what they eat – and we do it too. We buy the goods that they endorse. We copy them. And, to copy someone, to me, says that we want to be just like them, we want to have their lives. We let them influence us. We obsess over what they are doing. They become our role models. We seldom stop to think that they too are flawed. They hide whatever it is that they don’t want people to know – their weaknesses. Their outward beauty is often covered by layers of carefully crafted makeup, and airbrushed to perfection in their photos. So, while they may be considered an original, most of these people whom we put on a pedestal are too are simply no more than illusion. Furthermore, I believe that they too are emulating what has influenced them in their lives.
As I’ve aged over the years, I have become less interested in being a copy of another person. After all, I know the one, the true, the original. And just as the artist that reproduces great masterpieces, I study the source, the original. While I look and listen to what others have to say and what others do, I found that it is Him, the original, that I want to examine, study, emulate. And, over the years I see progress in the way that following Jesus is molding me, just as the potter forms the pot, shaping and reshaping me, to become more like Him.
Don’t copy the things of this world – study, follow, and emulate the original.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2, ESV)