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Art and Authenticity December 21, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Art and Music, Dwight Furrow's Posts.

At Crooked Timber, John Quiggin is puzzled by worries about authenticity in art.

“In the course of an interesting piece by Richard Dorment in the NY Review of Books on the authenticity or otherwise of works by Andy Warhol, I came across a striking passage”

The single most important thing you can say about a work of art is that it is real, that the artist to whom it is attributed made it. Until you are certain that a work of art is authentic, it is impossible to say much else that is meaningful about it.

”Is this a reasonable claim about art in general? How important is authentic attribution in, say, literature or music?”

Quiggin is doubtful. 

“If it turned out, say, that Francis Bacon wrote all the plays we could just say ’Shakespeare’ was really Francis Bacon’ and go on pretty much as before.”

I can think of some contexts in which authorship would matter. If you are judging an artist’s body of work it is important to know what to include and what not. Furthermore, when and where a work was created matters a great deal. If it turns out that Macbeth was written by Bacon, since Bacon was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, it would be no less a great work. But if we were to discover that Macbeth was written by some 19th Century poet emulating Shakespeare it would matter a great deal since the play would no longer express features of Elizabethan England that provide part of the richness of a Shakespeare tragedy.

But, generally, authenticity is over-rated as an aesthetic standard.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com