Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Art is in the Eye of the Beholder

Book Review: Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age by Jonathon Keats

Jonathon Keats' Forged explores the boundaries of what we commonly define as Art, and in the process forces us to question that definition. What appears to be very straightforward on the surface becomes more complicated when obscured by layers of paint.

When is a copy just a copy, and when is it a forgery? Or even more, when is a copy (a la Andy Warhol), art in itself? Many artists began by copying the work of others. And if you are going to copy someone else, wouldn't you copy from the best? Where do we draw the line? Are all copies, however innocent, mere forgeries?

While it may seem that we are merely begging a question of terminology, it goes much deeper than that. As you begin digging into the works of any particular artist, there inevitably are those that even the experts will mark as "attributed to". Not all artists signed all their work; very few actually cataloged it. Art experts often have to rely on questionable provenance and comparisons to known works in order to attribute a work to a particular artist, and it is not unknown to have a work historically ascribed to one artist be later changed to be the product of another.

If you begin researching the recent "renovation" of Da Vinci's "The Last Supper", you will find out that the painting was in fact restored using copies of Da Vinci's master work that had been painted by his assistants. Centuries of misguided and poorly done preservation and restoration had left very little of Da Vinci's work intact. The restored painting that we now see is little more than a copy of a copy, or shall we say, a forgery? Or is that merely in the eye of the beholder?

These are the types of questions that Jonathon Keats makes us consider. The answers are left for us to decide.