If a forged art work gives the viewer the same aesthetic experience as the original work, why does Dennis Dutton claim that we nevertheless have good reason to insist that the forgery does not have the same artistic value as the original? Explain his argument.
In order to answer the question of why a forgery does not have the same artistic value as an original work of art, regardless of its aesthetic merit, it is necessary to consider the values other than aesthetics that apply to art. For Denis Dutton, it is these other values that make forgery so damaging.
In his essay “Forgery and Plagarism”, Dutton begins by defining forgery: he states that an artistic reputation is inextricably linked with specific historical tastes and aesthetic values, and that forgery is “an attempt to cash in on such established reputations” (Dutton, n.p.). Already in this definition, Dutton makes it clear that it is not the mimicry of aesthetic attributes which is problematic, but the appropriation of other associated qualities. He makes this even clearer when he explains that, aesthetically, a forgery might constitute a “new and important work of art” (Dutton, n.p.), but that it is the accompanying false attribution of a name and reputation that makes that work ethically problematic. For Dutton, therefore, forgery is not a crime of artistic content theft, such as plagarism, but of what amounts to identity theft. Unlike plagarism, forgery is more ethically problematic because it constitutes damage not merely to individuals, but to society as a whole.
Having established what constitutes the crime of forgery, Dutton goes on to explain the ethical problems raised by the wrongful appropriation of another artist’s name and reputation. He writes that forgers “systematically misrepresent artistic achievement” (Dutton, n.p.); for Dutton, this problem is rooted in the context in which works of art are appreciated. He describes the way in which a work of art is not only a visual image, but is also an important historical representation and record, rooted in the context of the artist and the audience, and their specific motivations, understandings, and responses. He quotes other critics, who denounce forgery because it undermines the unique emotional relationship and trust built between the artist and viewer, suggesting that a work of art is not only about an aesthetic experience, but also a philosophical, emotional or psychological experience which fulfils a basic human need. For these critics, forgery constitutes a betrayal of that relationship of trust, and dilutes the human experience which art represents. For Dutton, however, the main objection to forgery is not in the personal relationship of individuals to the work of art, but instead the importance of the work of art as a piece of living history.
Dutton writes that “forgery distorts and falsifies our understanding of art history” (Dutton, n.p.). What this means is that a work of art is both a highly personal expression on the part of the artist, but also a representation of the ideas, values, and ways of life of a particular society at a particular time: a physical and metaphorical record of that society, as well as of that artist’s viewpoint, which can be read and analysed by art critics and historians. The fundamental importance of art to an understanding of human societies means that this record forms an integral part of the way in which we understand history and study societies. This, for Dutton, is why forgery is so ethically problematic: by distorting this record it defrauds not merely individuals, but whole communities, falsely influencing the way in which humanity itself is understood and experienced.
In conclusion, Dutton writes that “Art is not just about beautiful things, it is about the visions of the world recorded in centuries past” (Dutton, n.p.). It is from this sociological viewpoint that Dutton is able to argue that a forgery can never have the same artistic value as an original work of art.
- Dutton, Denis. “Forgery and Plagarism.” www.denisdutton.com, Academic Press, 1998. Web. 13 December 2015.