What is Lucida?

What is Lucida? Read on to know what Thomas Boldt has to say about the new scanner by Factum Arte.

Spread throughout cultural hubs in Europe, a team of artists and conservators have been working on something big. Perhaps it is better defined as something extremely small: the most detailed reconstructions of famous masterpieces anywhere in the world. Using a custom-built laser scanner that was 14 years in development known as the Lucida, the team at Factum Arte can reproduce artwork down to the individual hairs within a brushstroke.

Their intent is to use the equipment to conserve and preserve some of the most famous pieces in the world, but they have even gone a step further. Some famous works such as one of Van Gogh’s destroyed Sunflowers and Vermeer’s The Concert which was stolen have been recreated in such exquisite detail that they include details not typically visible to the human eye.

How much of the value of a painting is created by the actual touch of the original artist’s brush? When you’re talking about a factory that churns out copies of famous works in the original medium by the truckload, there isn’t much original value in any of the pieces. Even if the artist (or more often, art student trying to make ends meet) has their own innate talent, the fact that the work they are creating is a reproduction of someone else’s work destroys its value.

But what about original pieces that were created only partly by the painters they are attributed to? Many famous artists both current and historical have employed assistants to help them create their work, and the role of these assistants is often grossly underappreciated.

Popular and arguably infamous artist Damien Hirst got into some hot water over the fact that his famous dot paintings are actually created by his assistants, although under his close instruction. Out of the 1,365 paintings in the series, he only claims to have painted the first dozen or so. He defended this policy by suggesting that nobody would dismiss the work of an architect who doesn’t do any of the actual construction work, which is an interesting argument that lays bare some fundamental distinctions between design and art – or whether there really are any meaningful distinctions at all.

Below is a quick video on how a laser printer works, this is not a Lucida laser printer.

So when we return to Factum Arte’s reconstructions, do we see them as extremely detailed but worthless copies, as constructs created by Van Gogh et al in the role of designer, or as something entirely different? Even a respectful homage requires some sort of interpretive element – but does their dedication to extreme, brush-stroke precision remove this aspect?

The fact that they are recreating lost works gives them some degree of the originality, an important point when you consider that the uniqueness of each masterpiece is a major part of what makes it valuable. But what happens when the technology becomes more widely available, as it inevitably will? Factum Arte’s hardware and software specifications for the Lucida 3D scanner are open source and available to anyone with a passion for conservation, which is an admirable goal, but one that may have some unintended consequences throughout the rest of the art world.