China’s low wages and hunger for exports have already changed many industries, from furniture to underwear. The art world, at least art for the masses, seems to be next, and is emerging as a miniature case study of China’s successful expansion in a long list of small and obscure industries that when taken together represent a sizable chunk of economic activity.
China is rapidly expanding art colleges, turning out tens of thousands of skilled artists each year willing to work cheaply. The Internet is allowing these assembly-line paintings to be sold all over the world; the same technology allows families across America to arrange for their portraits to be painted in coastal China.
[…] China’s ability to turn what has long been an individual craft into a mass production industry may affect small-scale artists from Rome’s Spanish Steps to the sidewalks along Santa Monica’s beach in California, as well as many galleries and art colonies in between.
Artist groups in the United States are starting to express concern, questioning the originality of some Chinese paintings and whether they comply with American copyright laws.
[…] Exporters of Chinese paintings say that even though the paintings often imitate well-known works of art, the copies are inherently different because they are handmade, and so do not violate copyrights.
Robert Panzer, the executive director of the Visual Artists and Galleries Association, a trade group based in New York, disagreed. He said that the vast majority of paintings produced before the 20th century were in the public domain and could be freely copied and sold. But it is not legal to sell a painting that appears to a reasonable person like a copy of a more recent, copyrighted work, he said.