Thursday, August 10, 2006

Open-Thread Thursday: The Artist's License and its Limits

An article about Avail Art's recent Summer Art Circle (a truly wonderful program that encourages philanthropy in the arts [for this particular event, the target audience was lawyers and law students], and which also has a great blog on video art) noted that one of the panelists shared the story of "the artist who donated a work to a museum and then some years later claimed it was a fake."

I found this a truly fascinating idea, actually. Would an artist have the right to seriously declare a work at some point in the future a fake? On the surface it would seem no, that's silly. But then I started to think about what, for lack of a better term, I'll call the "artist's license" (illustrated notoriously by Robert Rauschenberg who declared that a telegram was a portrait of Iris Clert if he said it was [and indeed it has become a "work of art" that's exhibited as such] ---click on image above to see larger version). I began to wonder if that might not reasonably work in reverse, and if so, where the limits for that might lie.

Consider a readymade. It becomes a "work of art" when an artist declares it as such. Why then wouldn't it become an ordinary object again, should the artist decide its artiness had passed? And beyond readymades, does a sculpture, painting, photograph, drawing, etc., only become "art" at the point the artist says its ready to be seen as such? And if so, what's to stop the artist from later changing his/her mind about that and declaring that the object is no longer a true "{insert artist's name here}" and should from this point forward be seen by the public as a fake?

Reason would suggest it's not a reversible decision (with a Pandora's Box of implications for collectors and museums), but reason is meant to be toyed with, no?

Consider this an open thread:


Blogger Bill Gusky said...

To me such a retraction is no different than an artist regretting or disowning a work they used to like. The retraction doesn't necessarily remove the aesthetic significance or dollar value at all. In fact the retraction itself could be considered art.

8/10/2006 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger William Knipscher said...

An artist saying to a museum, "I disown that artwork," has no legal standing as Bill touched on. But if something happens to the artwork without the artists consent things change. I did some research into this a few years back and an artist can legally remove their name from an artwork if it has been damaged or altered. It is comforting to know that an artist has some recourse when say a collector wants to move a sculpture and realizes that the new door that was built is too small, and hey lets just chop off part of the sculpture and get the kid next door to weld it back on later.
The language behind the law is interesting because as I remember it, the artwork is referred to as if it were a living thing.

8/10/2006 10:20:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

To exercise true "artistic license", an artist should be able to change his or her mind as many times as they like regarding the authenticity of the work. A truly forward-thinking artist could provide a collector or museum with a calendar, outlining on which days the work will be real, and on which days it will be a fake. Not only would the calendar itself potentially become a work of art, but it would give collectors a great tool to plan when to best cash in their chips, uh, artworks.

If you think this sounds silly, ask RR what he thinks. I don't have his e-mail address, but maybe send him a telegram.

8/10/2006 12:14:00 PM  
Anonymous paul said...

Interesting concept. I think it's kind like announcing that you're in love with your sister and then asking everyone to forget about what you just said.

The museum can then say "FU, it is legit". The curator, viewer, and collector have their own magic art powers as well.

Another side is the outsider artists who never claimed that what they created was art, but some curator did.

8/10/2006 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Paul, that's very telling: in 1917 only an artist could elevate a urinal to 'art'. In 2006 practically anyone has this power, but does it have the same value?

8/10/2006 06:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Ruiz said...

I can't see how this is anything but petty inflamation on the part of the artist, and perhaps an excersise in irrelevant charlatism illuminating irrelevant charlatism. If I make a beautiful framed painting, and then later decide its no longer a work of art, will anyone accept that? When is a beautiful framed painting not art? However, when you manage to convince patrons and critics to stretch their concept and definition of art wide enough to include your found-object glove (for example) in a gallery, and then later make a point to later say that its not art/a fake, it illustrates two things: the first, that you're willing to defraud all owners of your artwork by calling their purchases "fake" at some point; and that this whole chair=table type of liquid definition found in the visual arts has been somewhat bogus from the start.

That was a terribly long sentance, so I'll say it another way: the carpet-bombing psuedo-intellectual "art of defining things as art," after 95 years of dutifully fueling our planet's fledgling "you don't get it" industry, has just imploded.

Don't worry though, the plastified human corpses should sustain us for another decade or two.

8/10/2006 06:59:00 PM  
Anonymous William said...

I don't think the artist has much room to manuever. The thing exists, and can be appreciated wihout authorship. The only thing it will affect is it's dollar value if the artist won some kind of law suit. I think it is somewhat disconcerting, because so much of the 'value' of art has nothing to do with the thing itself, but as Benjamin would say, its aura; constructed out of many external factors including authenticity. It's pretty central concept to the market and ownership.

I'd like to see someone do something like it, but actually think of some way to embed something in the work, conceptually, that would render it valueless at some point. Lots of work just falls apart, but I mean something really messed up to do with the market. I guess it happens all the time when people speculate on emerging art.

8/10/2006 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger carla said...

Is art a concept or an experience?

8/10/2006 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

To exercise true "artistic license", an artist should be able to change his or her mind as many times as they like regarding the authenticity of the work. A truly forward-thinking artist could provide a collector or museum with a calendar, outlining on which days the work will be real, and on which days it will be a fake.

Love it!

I'd like to see someone do something like it, but actually think of some way to embed something in the work, conceptually, that would render it valueless at some point.

Love it too! How about a prediction, say that it will rain on February 16th, 2055, or something like that.

Is art a concept or an experience?

Hey, I'm a dealer...I thought it was an object [ducking and hiding].

8/10/2006 09:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Art I think is merely a negociation, a consensus.

You actually cannot come inside a museum with an urinal if other people aren't ready to accept it as art. Duchamps brought his piece
because people were ready for it. It might have to do with the history of industrial design. People were probably already fascinated by the new objects that machines were bringing to them.

I think I mentioned already elsewhere the example of inuit throat chants that we now consider music but that inuits refused to term as such when we first discovered them, because for them these noises had a purpose linked to gaming (sort of an aural version of a "je te tiens, tu me tiens, par la barbichette").

Sometimes cultural consensus of the bigger receiver wins over intention of the giver, and this aspect has been very cautiously warned by most lecturers in ethnologic studies.

So in states of consensus, any indidual is actually allowed to frame or deframe in their mind any object or event from being art, but in the meantime the consensus have a life of its own that isa much harder to influence.

Duchamps is not the sole guide of his work anymore, there have been many guides, many writtings about the urinal. So would he had declared his urinal non-art, people would have listened but I doubt his intentions would have sufficed any more "now that his negociation had already been fulfilled".

With consensus it is possible that some day we consider the urinal as non-art but we will have to find the true motivating focal point that would lead us into believing that.

What I firmly encourage on my part, is to all people, wrether they are artists or not, to experience this muscle of shifting meanings and values we imply to objects and events, to constantly flicker with our determination to perceive art, and engage in this mental dialogue where you allow the chance to anything to be either art or non-art, regardless of what it is originally (and temporarely, because art is only ever temporal) supposed to be within reality (which for me is illusion anyway).

As an artist my goal would always be to enhance this philosophy, but the art-nonart-by-the-day museum trick would only signify to me a failure from the artist to recognize and accept consensus. You can do this in your own mind but that doesn't truly affect anything. That's not the way to do it.


Cedric Caspesyan

8/11/2006 01:07:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

You actually cannot come inside a museum with an urinal if other people aren't ready to accept it as art.

You can if you put it in the men's room.

8/11/2006 02:24:00 AM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

What I find interesting is the way we reject some old-school modernist concepts (manifestoism) and yet others persist (artistic license), even though they come from the same untruthful place (the powerful position of the individual artist).

In reaity, the individual artist's power to declare the terms of his/her art is diminishing precisely because this tactic is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Sure, artists can say or do whatever they want, but who's listening? How fat is the Friday art and antiques pages in the Times, and how fat is the Friday movie/theater pages?

8/11/2006 07:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art and invention has changed hands!
In the interim we get the second hand.

At the beginning of the industrial age, typified by a unified and massive work force, ten-scale-size cogs represented the possible via their pragmatic turn. The best art did not follow.
... yet we still measure and gain by an old formula of cogs and its paradigm, yet more refined.

8/11/2006 09:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Lol David! I'm sticking fountains as urinals in those men's rooms just to confuse everyone.

Anonymous I totally agree with you,
that art has not been up to design and has been surpassed on most or all aesthetic accounts.

Even Judd was way late on his era.

They are a couple artists today who succeed in this dialogue
but they are quite rare.

Cedric Caspesyan

8/11/2006 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Well, if a writer calls a small or large set of words a poem, it's a peom. and art is art if the maker says it's art. By the time they may or may not call it art, call it fake it has entered a public consciousness(if they are lucky) and then it is art forever.

didn't kafka request all his shitty work be destroyed? his friend didn't destroy it and so we call it literature.

It's true that the art world has really become a depressing con game run by mostly like a mafia. Ping pong balls dropped down flights of stairs, gloves framed :) and an over long lazy adoptation of the urinal piece. Too many artists are lazy and intellectual continuing a series of traditions that are nothing more than "punchlines".

The public is sick of this punchline tradition, or conceptual art made by people who don't seem to want to get dirty. Oh well, maybe we;'ll get bored of it, maybe not.

In the mean time, Cedric, art is not a negotiation. it is a descision and a natural way to live. Art is an object like Edward says...and if an artist says something is art, it is. if an outsider artist says its not...but we are looking at a narrative image...then it is art.

Art is the same thing as literature and the first literature or storytelling was likely following the tracks and signs of an animal. Tracking and tracking stars/celestial activity were probably the first readings and develpment of narratives...and it is a narrative long now extended into text and image making.

cheers, I love ya guys you make my day with your delightful discussions!


8/11/2006 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous max101 said...

FYI, from "Intellectual Property or Intellectual Paucity?" by Jon Ippolito:

"Robert Morris was ticked off at a collector who had never paid for his art work "Litanies" (1963), so he created a new work ("[Document:] Statement of Aesthetic Withdrawal", 1963) that includes a notarized statement in which Morris claims to withdraw from "Litanies" all aesthetic quality and content. (No doubt this act brought a shudder to all those who place artistic intent paramount among the sources of aesthetic meaning.)"

"Litanies" and "Document" are both in MoMA's collection:;_number=2&template;_id=1&sort;_order=1;_number=1&template;_id=1&sort;_order=1

8/11/2006 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>an over long lazy adoptation of the urinal piece.

Oh no I actually adore the urinal and think Duchamp was right:
Mr Mutt did a fine work of sculpture.

>>>The public is sick of this punchline tradition.

I think so too. Deconstruction was necessary just like reversal mathematics are sometimes
needed to prove a theorem, but we've passed beyond the basics and have defines all the elementary tools to construct again, methink.

>>>In the mean time, Cedric, art is not a negotiation. it is a descision and a natural way to live. >>>Art is an object like Edward says...

Indeed art is a negociation in the sense that artist intention MUST meet the audience
acceptation before something becomes art. Well.. Actually....Everyone is entitled to perceive anything as art
but there is still a negociation going on in your head. You see, art is a conative object, it is merely a process
of cognition. That is to say (selon Kant) that feelings, desire and action negociate this decision
to perceive the art object just like with every other decision in our lives (and just like when you are making art
you need to negociate when you think that art has been created).

Art is an object in the sense that most of the time that object or at least the idea (concept) of that object is triggering our desire to experience art.

For the psychopath the feeling may be absent to let him able to
perceive something as art. That is a stretch but an interesting one to follow.
Any Rorschach test anyone?


Cedric Caspesyan

PS: Art Object VS Art Idea
While Duchamps declared any object as potentially
valuable for art, Beuys declared any idea as potentially valuable for art. That is how he started to
question the ethics behind the art object (and I guess materiality in general). So when you follow that line carefully it is easy to come up to a point where you refuse the object "itself" as art, just like a protestant refuse an icon in his church. Art then focusses on "experience" (as was expressed in this thread somewhere)
We have barely been there yet (and Beuys was a failure in the way his art objects were recycled by museology, leaving the ideas behind), though we do have the occasional hardknock performance artist. But looking at how easily people enter religions and sects these days I think that there is still a possibility that some sort of art philosophy emerge above the art object some day (if we all become buddhists tomorrow the object would become irrelevant, non? It wouldn't disappear but it would become a tool for experience. Heck..the ritual of painting would become more important than the final product).

8/11/2006 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed's post immediately brings to mind that old story about Picasso being asked to go through a pile of his paintings and toss out the fakes. As the collector watches Picasso put one particular painting in the fake pile, he says, "But Pablo, I watched you paint that one!" And Picasso replies, "I can fake a Picasso as well as anyone."

I love that story. It doesn't matter to me if it's true.

8/13/2006 12:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Penner said...

Yes i think art is what the people likes. In germany there are also lot of things called as art but for me not.

Greetings from germany.

4/23/2009 02:22:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home