Art, Authenticity in

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In the main sense of the term an artwork is "authentic" if it is the artwork it is thought to beif it has the history of production it is represented as having or gives the impression of having, if it was created where, when, how, and by whom it is supposed or appears to have been created. Thus, a work may be inauthentic in virtue of being a forgery, or a misattribution, or a replica not identified as such. A reproduction (e.g., in an art book) is inauthentic only in a weaker sense: Though not the artwork it reproduces, it does not purport to be and runs no danger of being confused with it.

The chief issue concerning the authenticity of artworks has been the extent to which a work's aesthetic properties, artistic value, and proper appreciation legitimately depend on questions of authenticity in the above sense. The issue is often framed in terms of a challenge: What is wrong with a forgery? or What privileges an original artistically?

Broadly speaking, there are two opposed views on this issue. On one view an artwork is merely a perceivable structurefor example, a constellation of colors and shapes, a set of notes, a string of words, or the like. Furthermore, this structure is the entire source of its aesthetic and artistic properties and is the only thing relevant to its appreciation and evaluation as art. Thus, anything preserving the artwork's perceivable structure, so as to be perceptually indiscernible from it, is equivalent to it artistically and even ontologically. Such a view underlies the formalism of Clive Bell and Roger Fry, the literary stance of the New Critics, and to some extent the aesthetics of Monroe Beardsley. By these lights there is nothing much wrong with a forgeryprovided, of course, that it is a perfect one, not detectably different from the original.

On the other view perceivable structure is not the sole determinant of a work's aesthetic complexion or its artistic character. Rather, a work's context of origination, including the problematic from which it issues, partly determines how the work is rightly apprehended and experienced and thus its aesthetic and artistic properties. Aspects of the context or manner of creation arguably enter even into the identity of the work of art, as essential to its being the particular work it is. By these lights there is quite a lot wrong with a forgery. It differs from the original in numerous respects, both aesthetic and artistic, and as a human producta making, an achievement, an utteranceit is of an entirely different order, however similar it appears on superficial examination.

If the second view sketched above is sound, then any artwork, pace Nelson Goodman, can be forgedthat is, represented as having a provenance and history other than its own, though how this will be effected differs from art form to art form, especially when one crosses from particular arts (such as painting) to type arts in which structure may be notationally determined (such as music). And this is because, in all art forms, the identity of a work is partly a matter of the historical circumstances of its emergence.

Goodman famously argued, against the aesthetic equivalence of an original painting and an ostensibly perfect forgery, that the possibility of discovering a perceptual difference between the former and the latter constitutes an aesthetic difference between them. Unfortunately, this argument seems to trade on conflating an aesthetic difference and an aesthetically relevant difference between two objects. As suggested above, however, the aesthetic and artistic differences between originals and forgeries, which are ample, rest securely on quite other grounds.

Authenticity of Artwork Instance

In cases of multiple or type arts an instance of a worka copy, impression, casting, performance, staging, screening, and so forthmay be denominated authentic or inauthentic insofar as it is or is not a correct or faithful instance of the work. And this, according to different accounts, is a matter of its adequately instantiating and representing the structure thought definitive of the work in question, a matter of its having the right sort of causal or intentional relations to the work in question or of being produced in a certain manner, a matter of its conveying the aesthetic or artistic properties believed crucial to the workor some combination of these.

Authenticity of Artist

Finally, authenticity is sometimes considered a predicate of the artist, describing laudatorily the artist's characteristic mode of creating or the relation between the artist and the content of the works the artist creates. An authentic artist is one thought, variously, to be sincere in expression, pure in motivation, true to self, honest about medium, rooted in a tradition, resistant to ideology yet reflective of societyor all of these. There seems to be only a passing relation between authenticity in this sense and the authenticity of work or instance canvassed above.

See also Aesthetics, History of; Aesthetics, Problems of; Art, Truth in; Art, Value in; Beardsley, Monroe; Goodman, Nelson.


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