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.

 

 

 

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Shallow Focus and the Aura of Authenticity in Gamorra

Gamorra/Gamorrah(2008)

 

Gamorra the film selects several stories from investigative journalist Roberto Saviano’s best seller of the same name. All set in or around the Camorra’s (Mafia of Napoli and its surrounding towns) territories and business interests. Gamorra includes several interesting formal features in which the film communicates the violence, despair, and seemingly unavoidable fate of the central character’s struggle to survive in Europe’s most violent neighbourhoods. The technique of shallow focus is important in Gamorra in communicating this poisoned atmosphere.

 

Shallow focus is the cinematographic technique which shows one plane of field clearly while the deeper plane of field is blurred or out of focus. The shallow focus technique would show a face close up in perfect detail but the background or location out of focus. Deep focus, shallow focus’s antithesis, is the technique which shows an entire image in focus. In exposition shots we see the use of deep focus to clearly identify depth and position. Gamorra uses the shallow focus technique to foreground certain elements important in the communication of the toxic heritage that living in the Camorra dominated south entails.

 

The shallow focus technique is used to indicate, in part, the attempt in the characters to ignore and distance themselves from the violence they are surrounded by. This is indicated in a scene where a money-carrier walks suspicious and fearful of his well-being after he has a gun pointed at his head. As he walks away hastily the background moves out of focus, he attempts to block out the violence he just saw, yet a voice shouts out his name and follows him until he reluctantly stops and engages with the voice that has been stalking him. As he does the film returns to a deep focus. This indicates the futile attempt that is ignoring the context or situation the character’s find themselves in; one cannot step out of Camorra controlled life. The aesthetic of the shallow focus communicates a sense of a constant, ungraspable, unknowable violence which envelops and blurs clear and distinctive perception. The use of shallow focus reminds the viewer that the violent acts and characters are borne out of the poisonous toxic context. The sense of the unknowable and paranoid, added to by the style of death of Maria, also alludes to the actual feelings of the author of Gomorra who lives under protective custody; the truth comes with a terrible price.

 

[[[SPOILER: At the end of the film as these boys are killed the Camorra boss commented that it was a waste of youth but it had to be done. The Camorra blunt and destroy youth and the very little of it that Italy has left are being chewed up and spat out. Gamorra seems to say that unless corruption is destroyed then every generation, in this region, will continue to have a large waste of youth.]]]

 

Gomorra has been linked to, and commented, to be in the Italian Neo-realist style [I have decided to create a full article concerning this statement however one element of the Neo-realist style is relevant enough here to merit bringing it up now; the use of non-actors in significant roles]. Andre Bazin commented concerning Italian Neo-realism ‘It is not the absence of professional actors that is, historically, the hallmark of social realism nor of the Italian film. Rather, it is specifically the rejection of the star concept and casual mixing of the professional’ and amateur. (1.) Bazin argues that this ensures the audience brings with it no pre-conceptions concerning character – the opposite to what Jean-Luc Godard did in Alphaville (1965); that is play with those pre-conceptions. Bazin explains ‘the result is… that extraordinary feeling of truth that one gets from [Italian Neo-realism]’. (2.) In Gomorra several significant, or rather nearly all, roles are played by amateurs and non-actors and this attributes to a sense of authenticity and realism. Skinny young men, fat overweight looking men litter the film; average-looking people, as opposed to the stylised look of Hollywood, imbues the aesthetic of Gamorra with an ‘atmosphere of authenticity’. (3.) This is added to outside of the film by the film’s official website which doesn’t list the actors beside pictures unlike Hollywood film where actor recognition is important.

 

Staying outside of the films’ digesis the aura of authenticity of Gomorra has been further added to by events outside of the film. One of the central messages of the film, and book, is the infectious dominating control the Camorra has in everyday life from the most basic domestic sphere to the world of industrial waste and fashion design. Recently Bernardino Terracciano, who plays a boss, has been ‘arrested on suspicion of extorting protection money and having ties to the Casalesi clan, part of the Camorra Mafia’. (4.) Two other actors, one a boss and the other a hitman in the film, have also been detained by the police. These facts add to the sense that the non-actors are just playing-out their day to day lives but in front of the camera just this once but it also rams home the central message of the film that you cannot escape the touch of the Camorra.

 

 

 

(1.) Andre Bazin ‘An Aesthetic of Reality: Neo-Realism’ in Andre Bazin, What is Cinema?, California: University of California Press, (1971), pp. 16-40 p. 23.

(2.) Andre Bazin ‘An Aesthetic of Reality: Neo-Realism’ p. 24.

(3.) Andre Bazin ‘An Aesthetic of Reality: Neo-Realism’ p. 24.

(4.) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/3186186/Italian-mafia-film-Gomorrah-heads-for-Oscars–as-cast-members-are-arrested.html

Future Worlds: Globalisation and Intertextuality in Blade Runner

Blade Runner (1982)

The future world, 2019 LA, of Blade Runner is a cosmopolitan “global village”. This is communicated by the use of bi-lingual advertising signs: Coca-cola sits amongst neon Japanese symbols. Although Coca-cola is an American symbol that is saturated world wide the use of it sat against the Japanese iconography communicates the sense of lost identity. While Deckard sits eating his Japanese food two “Blade Runner” cops stand behind him, and although we are in LA they speak in a foreign language to Deckard who only understands English. He must get the noodle stand owner to translate for him. The fact that an agent of the central authority, the Police, speaks in Japanese rather than English in LA signifies the state of globalisation. The identity that is lost is the local provincial aspects of countries. Instead of an American or Japanese culture we see a cross-breed intertextual mix that produces it own new identity. As I mentioned in my previous post concerning the Postmodern nature of Blade Runner this concept of intertextuality and pastiche culture is important in communicating a distinct future world. Blade Runner asks questions about individuality and authenticity [I will write a post about Blade Runner with the aim to explore the postmodern concept of cyborg ] and the intertextual nature of Blade Runner creates a future world where people have become replicants of imagery and images that “used” to signify something individual but now have become tired. Instead of Deckard being an individual he has become a “replicant” of the film noir detective in his trench coat and hard-boiled character. Similarly Rachel has become the prototypical Femme Fatal, dressed in dark, commanding screen presence and continuously smoking.

 

The future world social structures are communicated in Blade Runner by the opposition of setting, as in Total Recall and Running Man. The internal shots of the headquarters of the Tyrell corp. are luscious and extraordinary while the city streets are dark and rain is continuously falling. As in Total Recall the opposition of two colours can communicate an atmosphere that coincides with the location. In Total Recall the use of red and whites opposed each other and communicated a mood and sense of place. In Blade Runner the use of dark-blues communicate a sense of run-down dirty atmosphere while golds and yellows create a warm glow that surrounded the upper echelons of the Tyrell corp.