A philosophical conundrum

This a funny story:


This “forger” is facing jail for … what, exactly?

…he is suspected of having passed off 35 paintings as valuable masterpieces from the early 20th century. Authorities believe he painted at least some of the forgeries himself.

Beltracchi allegedly escaped notice by forgoing forgeries of paintings by famous artists like Picasso. Instead, the “newly discovered paintings” he hawked were said to be done by lesser-known artists whose work — while still valuable — wouldn’t attract the same attention.

Apparently many of these were good paintings, original and not copies, in the style of some lesser-known (but nonetheless known) artists. For some reason they were considered to be worth more if someone else had painted them than if he had done it in his own name. Now if he had appropriated the name of a truly great artist, there might be some deception of an “Emperor’s New Clothes” type — people would pay more in the hope that there were hidden depths and subtleties in the work that would eventually be appreciated. But it should be possible to make some sort of appraisal of the value of a painting without knowing who painted it — it is certainly possible to do this for other types of art. The “collector’s value” that arises because of the finitude of the output of a famous artist is distinct from any artistic value of the painting itself; but it would be nice if appraisers itemized these separately. Is this too much to hope?

I feel sorry for the guy — his talent unrecognized unless he takes someone else’s name. I’m sure much of the appreciation of the paintings by those who thought they had been done by those other artists was genuine and valid aesthetic judgments. This suggests something has gone seriously wrong with the art of painting in the last century — but what, exactly?


About Polymath

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4 Responses to A philosophical conundrum

  1. The problem is related to the issue of fashionable styles. Even critics who grant that the value of a piece of art should not depend on who created it may have a hard time granting that it should not depend on WHEN it was created.

    Every now and then a new piece of classical music from some well-known composer of two centuries ago is discovered and added to the “canon”; but does anyone write music anything like that anymore? I’ve never heard a satisfying explanation why composers today SHOULDN’T compose in a classical idiom, which after all is popular with many people; and it is hard to believe that there are no composers today capable of it.

    There may be a confusion between evaluating the impressiveness of the composer’s achievement in composing the music when he did (which may have required more originality than a later composer would have needed to do a similar piece), and the aesthetic value of the piece of music itself. The same confusion may have prevented Mr. Beltracchi from achieving appropriate recognition for his paintings.

    I prefer to enjoy paintings by looking at them and music by listening to it, rather than to evaluate the achievement of the artist. Unfortunately critics have turned into examiners awarding grades to artists, instead of experienced appreciators whose opinions and guidance help the rest of us find and enjoy better art.

  2. Jehu says:

    There actually IS new music composed in the classical style—check out some of the better movie soundtracks. Several hundred years from now some of those pieces might be boiled into the classical canon. What is an orchestra but a very large classical cover band :-)?

  3. Yes, I should have mentioned soundtracks — my daughter is a gifted pianist and she taught herself to play by reproducing the soundtracks of all the movies she had seen. The market rules there which is why they are usually pretty good. But the musical market in general is so much larger than movie soundtracks and there is plenty of new music in many other genres, why not classical?

    Billy Joel and Joe Jackson, two of my favorite pop singer/songwriters, have done classical compositions that I enjoyed, but they were considered as “indulgences” by the critics and would never have gotten produced if the artists weren’t already very successful. Both of them were classically trained, and Jackson has also had a sideline in movie soundtracks throughout his career.

  4. Polymath says:

    This post (and especially its comments) on Sailer’s blog will interest anyone who has read this far….

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