Special Programmes

In our lives imitation plays a key role (often even a fatal one) no matter whether it is a child´s “conscious” imitation of adults or “unconscious” neurobiological processes in our brain when the human mind with the help of somatic markers tries to simulate many possible situations in order to be prepared for them in case they really happen. Therefore it is logical that imitation exists in art ever since time immemorial.
Imitation in art has a number of forms ranging from learning by “making copies” over to imitating styles and imitating actual works of art. Roman Štětina´s documentary is based on the testimony of the currently ineffectually convicted painter Josef Ptáčník in whose criminal case the final decision about “what type of imitation” he practiced will play a key role.
Josef Ptáčník had been painting paintings in the style of famous artists for a very long time but the paintings imitating the characteristic style of Wallachian painters became fateful for him because he was accused of commiting a crime. Ptáčník allegedly made use of his exceptional technical skills and handicraft to produce really fast a large number of precise paintings which he passed off as originals and he is said to have earned over a million crowns by those forgeries.
This complicated case provokes many questions and not only questions related to law. While judges are closely examining (or should be) whether Josef Ptáčník thanks to his talent intentionally mislead his customers, art theory is interested in other issues: Is imitation of someone else´s style acceptable at all? Is the painter-imitator an artist? Is there a difference between imitating someone´s style and imitating an actual work of art? Where is the subtle line between mere copying and only inspiration?
Josef Ptáčník does not answer such questions, however, perhaps he gives clues. He speaks about the beginnings of his work, the world of “false” art and the ways how to achieve an almost perfect illusion of the original. He also speaks about the details of his arrest and what might have influenced and unleashed his case. He does not deny that his paintings imitated Wallachian masters but he refuses the accusation that he sold them as originals and he does not understand how they could be taken by someone for original paintings despite their low price and their intentionally unfaithful signatures.
Josef Ptáčník does not consider himself a Czech Han van Meegeren because unlike the Dutch painter and master of forged paintings he did not claim that his paintings were hundreds-of-years-old original paintings. However, seen clearly from the viewpoint of ability of “art mimésis” Ptáčník is a proficient follower of van Meegeren. The deliberately formally sober documentary film by Roman Štětina but rich in content, presents a convincing view of this issue.

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