Going into our second week of the Gaddis-travaganza, I'd like to point everyone to a moldy but still great classic, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." This essay was originally written in 1935 by Walter Benjamin, and can now be found in the collection Illuminations. You can also find many of the same ideas, and a modern twist, in the opening essay of John Berger's Ways of Seeing.
So what is this all about and why should you, as a reader of TR, care? First off, TR is all about art and originality, and reproducing great works of art. Now in Gaddis's (and our) time, people could have reproductions of great works of art for a fraction of the price, yet the original was what everyone wanted. Why? Why pay millions for the original if you could just have a copy on the cheap? I'll quote John Berger for the answer:
The bogus religiosity which now surrounds original works of art, and which is ultimately dependent upon their market value, has become the substitute for what paintings lost when the camera made them reproducable.
Note the use of religiosity. In effect, Berger is saying that if anyone could have a reproduction of Van Gogh's work, then there's on need to own the original. In order to keep the original from losing its specialness, people established this cult of the original, this religious fervor. Not only that, but this new creation supplanted the mysterious seductive capacity that paintings originally carried when there were no reproductions.
Berger also says the ability to reproduce paintings has consequences for what they mean:
In the age of pictorial reproduction the meaning of paintings is no longer attached to them; their meaning becomes transmittable: that is to say it becomes information of a sort.
In other words, paintings can be put into advertisements and used to indicate how tasty a cigarette is. Just like any other sign, paintings can be strewn around and used as language. This could not be done when there was only one copy of each work, and this too has had consequences for the way art is seen and interpreted.
Now, since our protagonist, good old Wyatt, is an artist who we know will make forgeries, and who struggles with the concepts of the value of art (monetary and otherwise) and art's menaing, I hasten to guess that Gaddis read Benjamin and incorporated some of his thoughts into TR.
These two quotes from Berger are good starting points, and they get across the general thrust of what he and Benjamin are talking about, but you should go back to the source and have a read for yourself. I promise you will see TR in a new light.