If no one can tell two works of art apart, can there be an aesthetic difference between them?

The remit of this journal will be expanding slightly to include the disciplines Aesthetics, Art, Critical Theory – although this will still be primarily a film journal, the odd article and analysis of Art and other cultural texts will be included. This expansion is added because it allows me to add my work concerning the institutional theory of art that i will concentrating on in the summer and to provide a forum in which to work through this – as well as other articles.

In this article I will attempt to answer the proposed question by exploring whether an identical forgery shares the shame aesthetic properties as an original. I will answer the question in the negative and argue that there cannot be an aesthetic difference between two visually identical pieces of art. I will indicate that this is not necessarily a negative outcome because it is an indicator that art is appreciated for more than just an artwork’s form. I will explain that art is appreciated both aesthetically and for its innovation: its position in the history of art. In this essay I will first explore N Goodman’s position that there can be an aesthetic difference between the two identical pieces of art. I will come to the conclusion that Goodman is incorrect in his belief that aesthetic appreciation is affected by knowing that an artwork is either a forgery or an unoriginal artwork produced by someone other than the artist. I will then illustrate why there is not an aesthetic difference between a forgery and an original piece of art.

Goodman proposes that there is an aesthetic difference between a forgery (B) and an original (A). The original (A) is a work of art by a historically important artist such as Henri Matisse and the forgery (B) is an identical work produced by a knowledgeable art student. Goodman contends that knowing that artwork (B) is a forgery ensures one perceives (B) differently. Goodman claims this difference to be aesthetic. In the article Art and Authenticity Goodman explains that once one is told that (B) is a forgery then ‘the pictures differ aesthetically… even if no one will ever be able to tell them apart merely by looking at them’.1 Goodman contends that being told that an artwork is a forgery affects the way we are able perceive it; he explains that knowing (B) is a forgery ‘makes consequent demands that modify and differentiate my experience’.2 Goodman believes that aesthetic appreciation is the complete experience we gain from our interaction with art and that this experience is distorted by the knowledge an artwork is a forgery. Goodman believes that although both (A) and (B) are visually identical they differ in the aesthetic experience they offer – once one is told that that (B) is a forgery.

One major problem with Goodman’s position is his understanding of the aesthetic. The aesthetic is not the whole lived experience we feel we when engage with art but an appreciation of the formal qualities of an artwork. The aesthetic experience is produced by appreciation of the art object’s intrinsic formal qualities. Goodman falsely attributes the object, artwork (B), with his knowledge that it is not artwork (A) the original. Goodman’s aesthetic difference is produced not in the art object but in the subject. If we tell Goodman that (X), A late period Picasso, is a forgery he would be forced to say that it is inferior aesthetically. However the knowledge that (X) is a forgery is external to the aesthetic nature of the work; it doesn’t affect the brush marks, colours and shapes that produced the artwork. Goodman’s understanding of the aesthetic is at odds with the way we appreciate an artwork aesthetically. The art object (B)’s colours, shapes or brush marks are not changed by the knowledge that it is a forgery; evaluation of (B)’s aesthetic quality is not affected by the knowledge it is a forgery. Goodman’s aesthetic is flawed because he asserts that anything that affects his perception of an artwork constitutes an aesthetic difference. In his article it is not clear why drunkenness, short-sightedness, colour-blindness or even racial prejudice would not entail an aesthetic flaw on the part of the artwork. It is evidently incorrect that an artwork should be seen as aesthetically inferior just because the viewer is drunk or colour-blind. Lessing explains that knowing that an artwork is a forgery ‘is a fact about the painting which stands entirely apart from it as an object for aesthetic contemplation. The knowledge of this fact can neither add anything to nor subtract anything from the aesthetic experience’.3 Knowing that artwork (B) is a forgery does not alter the form of the object; (B) still contains its original aesthetic features.

What changes when one knows an artwork is a forgery is that one approaches the artwork with a different understanding of the artwork’s place in the history of art. The knowledge that the artwork (B) is a forgery alters our perception of the artwork as a whole: it does not alter the artwork’s aesthetic features or our appreciation of them. Lessing continues to explain that ‘the fact that a work of art is a forgery is an item of information about it on a level with such information as how old the artist was when he created it, the political situation in the time and place of its creation’.4The aesthetic quality of (B) would not be said to be diminished if one gained knowledge of the place of (B)’s creation, or the political situation it was created in. The knowledge that artwork (B) is a forgery is on par with biographical and cultural information; information unimportant for appreciation of the artwork’s aesthetic qualities. The aesthetic quality of artwork (A) and (B) are equal; there is no difference between them in that category. The category which produces a different valuation between artworks (A) and (B) is the judgement made from knowledge of the historical, biographical and sociological background. As Lessing points out ‘A few authentic pen and ink scratches by Picasso are for more valuable than a fine landscape by an unknown artist’.5 Aesthetic judgement of an artwork is only one category or aspect of evaluation of art. Artworks are also valued for their historical significance, moral position, social critique and biographical matter. A painting of Descartes may be aesthetically uninteresting, however being a painting of an important historical figure the painting is valued for its historical and biographical significance. Artworks (A) and (B) contain the same aesthetic value because knowledge that artwork (B) is a forgery is not an aesthetic issue; there is not an aesthetic difference between the two identical pieces of art.

In attempting to answer the proposed question “If no one can tell two works of art apart, can there be an aesthetic difference between them?” I explored whether an identical forgery shares the shame aesthetic properties as an original. Goodman argued that they do not share the shame aesthetic properties. To Goodman the artworks (A) and (B) differ aesthetically because (B) is a forgery. According to Goodman’s position aesthetic appreciation is affected by the knowledge that an artwork is a forgery. I illustrated that this position is flawed. The aesthetic is not altered by knowing that artwork (B) is a forgery; the way we perceive the artwork in relation to the history of art is. Goodman’s position argues that the difference in the aesthetic valuation is because the way he experiences the aesthetic is altered by knowing that artwork (B) is a forgery. However Goodman does not make it clear why being drunk, short-sighted or colour blind would not also entail an aesthetic flaw on the part of the artwork. It is evidently false that an artwork’s aesthetic evaluation should suffer because the viewer is drunk, short-sighted, colour blind or racially prejudiced. Artworks (A) and (B) are visually identical and I illustrated that they do not differ aesthetically because (B) is a forgery; therefore there is no aesthetic difference that arises between (A) and (B). However this does not entail that we judge (A) and (B) equally as artworks. (A) would be seen as more important in regards to the history of art. In response to the proposed question there is no aesthetic difference between two visually identical pieces of art, but there may be historical, biographical, social or moral reasons why one piece of art is seen as more significant or important.

Footnotes

N, Goodman. ‘Art and Authenticity’ in N, Goodman, Languages of Art, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1976) pp. 99-112. p. 106.

N, Goodman. ‘Art and Authenticity’ p. 105.

Alfred Lessing, ‘What Is Wrong with A Forgery?’ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 23, No. 4, (Summer, 1965), pp. 461- 471. p. 464.

Alfred Lessing, ‘What Is Wrong with A Forgery?’ p. 464.

Alfred Lessing, ‘What Is Wrong with A Forgery?’ p. 463.

  

Bibliography

Goodman, N. ‘Art and Authenticity’ in Goodman, N. Languages of Art, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1976) pp. 99-112.

Kennick, W.E. ‘Art and Inauthenticity’ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 44, No. 1, (Autumn, 1985), pp. 3-12.

Kulka, T. ‘The Artistic and Aesthetic Status of Forgeries’ Leonardo, Vol. 15, No. 2, (Spring, 1982), pp. 115-117.

Morton, H. L. and Foster, T. R. ‘Goodman, Forgery and the Aesthetic’ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 49, No. 2, (Spring, 1991), pp. 155- 159.

Lessing, A. ‘What Is Wrong with A Forgery?’ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 23, No. 4, (Summer, 1965), pp. 461- 471.

Sagoff, M. ‘The Aesthetic Status of Forgeries’ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 35, No. 2, (Winter, 1976), pp. 169- 180.

Wreen, M. ‘Goodman on Forgery’ The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 133, (Oct., 1983), pp. 340-353.

 

 

 

Discourse Ideology Myth: Hollywood’s Geographical Location

The Hollywood myth is well-known. Hollywood is a place of dreams. Celebrities dine in expensive restaurants. Fashion boutiques reflect the money, effluence and aura in their outrageous designs. Red carpet is always just a barricade away. Your footprints stalk those famous names on the floor. This surgery enhanced smiling glamorous Hollywood myth is sold like sugar sweetening millions worldwide. Yet even this myth seems openly a myth. Quietly, whispering – though sometimes louder – in our ears we hear the resonating truth and we acknowledge that Hollywood & Vine is not Hollywood; it’s up those fair hills. Beverly Hills is the real geographical location; Beverly Hills is that Hollywood myth of fashion boutiques and celebrities. The Hollywood myth exists but is just a few miles away…

 

This honesty concerning the “truth” of the location of the real Hollywood is an extension of the myth. Hollywood, the proper Hollywood, is in Hollywood. Hollywood isn’t the light, bright, young and beautiful of Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills is smoke and mirrors which distracts us from concentrating on Hollywood’s real element. Hollywood the place is the proper Hollywood as it’s filled with industrial-like complexes, studios, sound-proof booths, sound stages, offices and all aspects of the real capitalist process of film-making. On contemplation we understand that this is the real Hollywood: an industrial complex. The myth of Hollywood and the smoke and mirrors of Beverly Hills are used so that the real commercial industrial nature of Hollywood isn’t foregrounded. Hollywood is an industrial complex that produces cultural items – a factory of language but still a factory. We wouldn’t argue that an Ironworks is to be found in the dirt and sweat on the worker’s brow or the workers homes – signs of it true but if we asked for directions and were given this answer we would be angry and lost. The Ironworks would be explained as the physical location: the factory floor or site of production. The Hollywood myth like the continuity system attempts to hide or refract the signs of the mechanical production so as to communicate a more financially viable and sustainable magical atmosphere that doesn’t raise questions or at least subdues them.

 

Are There Limits To What We Can Believe In Fiction? If So, What Determines These limits?

This relates to film but is really more to do with aesthetics. However i wrote it and felt it was relevant enough to post in my journal.

 

The imagination is a powerful tool that helps us look beyond possibilities. In the real world we are bound by possibilities and forces such as gravity.1 When we leap out of the window we fall ungracefully to the floor with terrible life-threatening consequences. Yet we freely accept that Superman is able to achieve flight and all because an author tells us that he can. Possibilities and impossibilities are open to our imagination; time travel, spaceships, travelling at speeds faster than light and talking animals are all accepted as proper items of imagination. Although the imagination is a powerful tool there seems to be a limit to what people believe in fiction: a moral limit. I will firstly explain why morality may impose a limit in our imaginative abilities. I will then explore Kendall L. Walton’s position that the limitation in imaginative abilities is due to the impossibility of imagining an opposing moral position as possible. I will then illustrate that Walton’s position is incorrect. I will then come to the conclusion that it is due to an unwillingness, rather than an impossibility, to imagine an opposing moral position as a possibility.

 

The imagination has a great ability to conjure up fantastical events that couldn’t otherwise ever be performed in the real world. However there does seem to be a limit to what people can imagine freely in fiction. This limit seems to be a moral consideration. Tamar Szabo Gendler explains that ‘When it comes to make-belief… I have a much easier time following an author’s invitation to imagine that the earth is flat than I do following her invitation to imagine that murder is right’.2 What we accept in the real world as a scientific impossibility we can accept as a possibility in the fictional world – we easily accept time travel in Back To The Future (1985). Yet when people are faced with a moral code they find disgusting, that paedophilia is really harmless or that infanticide is good, they resist the fictional world to the point where they stop reading the text entirely. This seems to be due to the exportability of morality. When a film asserts that pigs can fly we know that pigs cannot fly in the real world. When an author asserts that abortion is murder in a novel we know that this belief is applicable and exportable to the real world. The exportable and transferable nature of morality means that the moral position of a novel or film affects the readers ability to fully participate in imagining the fiction world. This is indicated by the inability of many viewers of Triump des Willens (1935) to admire the aesthetic qualities of Leni Riefenstahl’s film due to the moral and political position the film advocates [A further film, and maybe one more problematic, is the film Birth of a Nation (1915)]. One position holds that it is conceptually impossible to believe one moral position while accepting in a fictional world an opposed position as a possibility. This is advanced by Kendall L. Walton.

 

Walton believes that there is a limit to what we can believe in fiction. Walton believes that it is an impossible task to imagine a morally objectionable reality as good, such as that rape is in fact good for women, in the fictional world and still hold that rape is not good in the real world. Walton states ‘there are limits to our imaginative abilities. It is not clear that I can… imagine accepting just any moral principle I am capable of articulating’.3 Walton explains that, because of his moral beliefs, he is unable to imagine accepting a moral belief contrary to his own. Walton believes slavery to be wrong and cannot imagine accepting it as a possibility. Walton’s moral position is that slavery is morally impermissible. That position requires the belief that slavery cannot ever be morally correct. Therefore, because of his moral position, it would be contradictory to suppose or make-believe that slavery could ever, in any possible realm, be other than morally incorrect. Therefore Walton is unable to imagine slavery as morally correct because his beliefs do not allow the possibility. Walton seems to be arguing that it is impossible for us to imagine outside of our moral position. Walton’s position is called ‘the impossibility hypothesis’ by Tamar Szabo Gendler. 4 Gendler states that the hypothesis is defined by two points:

 

  1. The scenarios that evoke imaginative resistance are conceptually impossible.

  2. The conceptual impossibility of these scenarios renders them unimaginable.5


Walton believes that holding slavery to be morally impermissible and permissible at once is conceptually impossible and therefore unimaginable. The work has become ‘morally inaccessible’ and therefore the reader is unable to fully enter into the fictional world.6


Walton’s position, and the ‘impossibility hypothesis’, fails because it relies on morality being a fixed construct. Moral beliefs often change radically when they convert or lose their faith. If morality is changeable than imagining an opposing morality as possible and true in a fictional world is not an impossibility; it is rather an unwillingness on the part of the reader. An unwillingness that arises because one doesn’t want to change or accept an opposing moral position as superior. Gendler explains ‘my unwillingness to [imagine] is a function of my not wanting to take a particular perspective on the world – [the real, non fictional world] – which I do no endorse’.7 Essentially the reader fears that accepting a moral stance in the fictional world would mean that they accept such a position in the real world. If we accept in a text that a certain man’s relationship with a young girl was permissible fictionally, then it would lead us to believe it to be a possibility that paedophilia could be permissible in certain circumstances – such as those described in the text. Therefore we opt out of imagining a fictional world where paedophilia is permissible because we fear that we couldn’t reject it, or that we would start to accept it in the real world.

 

Walton argues that it is impossible to imagine an opposing moral position as a good things. He comes to this conclusion incorrectly. For a fictional world to be impossible to image the subject’s morals must not be changeable. Yet morals are changeable. This indicates that the inability to imagine an opposing morality is in fact an unwillingness on the part of the reader to imagine an other moral position being superior or acceptable. The text may purposely challenge the morals of others, yet the resistance come from the reader. The reader is unwilling to be challenged and enter into imagining a world that they cannot stomach; it isn’t that the proposed fictional world in unimaginable, it is rather that the reader doesn’t want to imagine, and engage with, the fictional world. Because morals are transferable people fear that involvement with a fictional world may include the adoption, or at least acceptance, of an alternative moral position, such as paedophilia being permissible or that slavery is an agreeable business. When we are questioned by fictions that oppose our moral outlook our counter-argument may be just as literary and hypothetical as the fictional world we are defending our position against. Therefore rather than enter into a dialogue with our own and other moral positions we opt to ignore the problems that arise and resist the fictional world. There doesn’t seem to be a limit to what we can imagine as possible in the fictional world but there is a limit to what we will allow ourselves to imagine in accord with out moral beliefs.

 

 

1I chose real because I felt it was better than non-fictional – though the term real is not without its problems.

2Tamar Szabo Gendler, ‘The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance’ in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 97, No. 2, (Feb, 2000) pp. 55-81 p. 58.

3Kendall L. Walton; Michael Tanner ‘Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality’ in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 68, (1994), pp. 27-66 p. 48.

4Walton denies that he defends/advocates the so-called ‘impossibility hypothesis’ yet the thesis fits his arguments exactly in regard to his conceptualization of the source of the resistance, I.e. that it is impossible to conceptualize a moral state opposed to one’s own.

5Tamar Szabo Gendler ‘The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance’ p. 66.

6Kendall L Walton; Michael Tanner, ‘Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality’, p. 30.

7Tamar Szabo Gendler ‘The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance’ p. 74.