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Visual & Performing Arts
English (U.S.)
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Conservation and Restoration in Art (Essay Sample)




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The role of museums, art galleries and private collectors is to ensure that the art in their possession is well preserved by all means. This is an ethical issue that is expected of them, and the aim should be to maintain the aesthetic value of the piece of art, though economic considerations do come in. The contemporary art market is highly diversified, presenting the art dealers and collectors with different ethical systems. This complicates matters when it comes to restoration and conservation and how they relate to ethics and the market value of art. Ethics is at the heart of any debate concerning conservation and restoration, especially if the debate expands to touch on the market value of art. There are twin issues to be looked at here; the need to preserve the art for future generations, and the need to increase its market value for better profits. It all boils down to the real value of art. Highly ethical individuals would appraise the value of art based on authenticity, history, cultural value and heritage. However, restoration and conservation sometimes erode these values, yet increases the market value of the art pieces by enhancing various desirable characteristics. Sometimes the cultural value and the economic value of art go hand in hand, with art objects of high cultural heritage fetching high prices on the market. However, sometimes the restoration techniques are applied with the primary aim not being to preserve the authentic integrity of the art pieces, but to enhance their profitability in the market. Such a move places the economic value of the art higher than its real cultural value and heritage, which should form the basis for the real value of art. This paper looks at the issue in a broad context, and tries to demonstrate that conservation and restoration are purely ethical issues which add nothing to the value of art.
In conserving a piece of art, efforts are made towards preserving it by trying to stop it from deteriorating while ensuring that it is not altered in any way. The main motivation for conservation is to prolong the lifespan of the piece of art so that it can be appreciated for many generations to come. Conservation efforts can be termed as either active or passive. Active conservation involves the use of technological and scientific means to increase the lifespan of a piece of art. This is considered unethical is some quarters since it goes opposite to the idea of not altering the art object in any way. It is also considered a short lived approach to conservation. Furthermore, the technology and materials used in conserving some of the art forms may end up being counterproductive in the future. This means that the only real ethical conservation techniques would be those that use reversible treatments that conserve the artistic value of the object. The conservation techniques are meant to preserve the originality of the art as much as possible, and this is an ethical issue which should not be compromised for other reasons like profit making. Passive conservation offers a more ethical way of preserving art objects. The objects are put in natural settings that prolong their lifespan and facilitate their long term preservation. They are kept in a pollution-free environment with optimum temperature conditions, and they are handled and stored using synthetic materials. This method helps in preserving the art object without any undue alterations, so viewers get to see the original piece instead of an altered version. It is this ethical consideration that should guide conservation efforts.
Restoration is done with the aim of enhancing certain features of the art object. For example, the buildings in heritage sites that are at risk of complete deterioration and collapse can be put under prolonged periods of restoration to prevent their complete ruin. Broken pieces of art can be glued back together in order to try and maintain their forms in whole. This is mainly for ethical reasons so that viewers can see the piece of part in almost its original form. Restoration can be viewed as part of more general conservation process. Restoration is, in essence, an ethical undertaking in which the guardians of important pieces of art try to ensure that the pieces don’t degenerate into an unsalvageable state of ruin. Those of a contrary opinion would point out that restoration goes against the core ethics of museums since it diminishes the object’s originality. They further argue that restoration cannot be separated from aesthetic moderation, which goes against the ethics that museums and art galleries are supposed to follow. The viewer is made to look at a piece of art and think it is authentic yet it has been modified through artificial means.
When talking about restoration and conservation, people tend to refer to ancient and historic art. Examples include the Coliseum in Rome, the Acropolis in Athens and the pyramids of Egypt. These are very important historical pieces of art and architecture that need to be preserved. They represent important periods in history, and this is what necessitates their preservation, even though this preservation also brings a lot of tourist revenue to the authorities. There is general consensus on the need to restore and conserve these highly popular international artifacts. However, theoretical problems arise when art is viewed as a representation of creative history. This means that art cannot belong to a particular time or place. New art becomes a part of history if it shows some characteristic uniqueness, and seems to constantly recede from the present time. Therefore, in trying to understand the ethical dynamics surrounding restoration and conservation, there are some points that need to be thoroughly reviewed. First of all, art should be viewed as a link to the past, even when it is conceived in the present, it moves from the present to the past. Those charged with caring for art are therefore handling great responsibility since it represents human ideals like identity and heritage. These ideals have significant influence on the ethics and value bestowed upon any piece of art in the market. A second point to consider is the way in which uniqueness gives a piece of art legitimacy. This will also determine the cultural capital represented by that piece of art. This quality of uniqueness will be used to determine which pieces of art need to be restored and preserved, and which ones need to be discarded or left to fade away. This consideration also makes art which is considered to have been created first to be given higher value in terms of cultural heritage.
The issue of cultural heritage is very significant, and must be at the heart of every debate concerning conservation and restoration. There are also political and ideological considerations that have to be part of the whole mix. For example, looking at art from the Renaissance era, through to the eighteenth and nineteenth century, one can observe some form of continuity in the art, culture and politics in a way that is representative of European hegemony. Conservation makes some art objects to be given preferential treatment above the others, such that the conservation objects do not evolve in the same way as the commonplace, non-conservation objects. This is one very important point that reinforces the argument that conservation and restoration are purely ethical issues.
The market value placed on any piece of art should, therefore, be taken as being reflective of the position of cultural identity and high cultural status that it has achieved. This will influence the extent to which efforts have to be put in to conserve and preserve the art object. Its market value is also set to increase with the passage of time, so the conservation and restoration efforts go hand in hand with the economic considerations. The cultural value and the market value of an art form are interconnected in this regard, since the art forms with higher cultural value tend to attract a higher economic value in the market. Conservation confers both cultural and economic value to an aesthetic object that would otherwise have little or no utility. In this context, conservation presents a paradox just as much as interpretation does in the art world. There is always a grey area that exists concerning one person’s evaluation of a piece of art and another person’s opinions about the same. Conservation can also be seen in this light; it is based on inherently subjective evaluations. Other factors that influence conservation include location, political ideology and the economics of taste.
Another ethical grey area that can be seen between preservation and interpretation is when conservationists add materials and substances to the original piece of art in a bid to preserve it, and thus tamper with its authenticity. This is definitely the biggest debate area in terms of ethics, with arguments over whether the need to preserve the piece of art for economic purposes overrides the need to preserve it as an authentic piece with unique cultural identity. As this debate over restoration and conservation rages on, there are two important points that one needs to take into consideration. First of all, one needs to appreciate the concerns over authenticity when restorative techniques are applied to historical pieces of art as a way of increasing their lifespan and enhancing their market value. Sometimes the restoration input needed is a lot, so in the end there is debate whether such restored pieces can still be regarded as the authentic pieces from way back in history. The conservationists, however, argue that it is through their efforts that we are able to fully appreciate the cultural value of the artifacts as they try to present them as they were as mu...
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