In London, the Dulwich Picture Gallery (est. 1817) is running a competition. It claims to be displaying 269 genuine paintings by such Masters as Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin… It is also displaying one known fake painting, commissioned by the Gallery itself. The game is to spot which is the fake. One has to assume that the other 269 are actually genuine. But who can tell? Does it matter? And to whom?
Art experts are frequently fooled or uncertain, disputing other experts’ findings. When we speak of items valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, such uncertainties are rather important, but only to their owners.
The point is – does it matter to everyone else?
Artworks have become commodities, the best hedge against uncertain financial climates and unimaginably vast bank robberies perpetrated by the banking system itself. In fact, many of the recent perpetrators are purchasers of these artwork investments. Well, they can afford it with all those bonuses for failure.
So if an item is certified as genuine, someone gets very rich, or very richer. To the rest of us – the 99.99% who do not own certified genuine investments (I mean artworks of incomparable beauty) – it matters not a jot. If a painting or a paint-wheel reject or half a fish was not actually created by the Master (or Mistress) but can convince even a minority of experts, then it is just as good as the real thing to the owner and the next purchaser. No pressure on the experts, then. The rest of us can only wonder how the heck some attractive daubs can really be worth more than a small town.
The Old Masters sketched-in their ideas then left the donkey work to their apprentices before returning to add their signature garment folds or hands before signing it off and collecting the fee. Modern famous artists use factory-production trainees in the same way. But still their work sells like the wonderful investments they are, as long as it has that price-enhancing signature.
In the musical worlds, session musicians often produce best-selling recordings for a flat day-rate.
So how about the written word? (I usually get around to writerly things about here.)
Certain famous, best-selling authors use similar techniques – call it factory-production or ghost-writing or whatever. An earlier post quoted the Association of Ghostwriters claim that 50% of best-sellers are ghosted. Ever wondered how some authors can create blockbuster doorstops every few months? Some fan fiction is better than the originals – their writers are missing a trick by staying amateur. Does it matter to the reader? A good read is a good read.
So the next time you stand before a certified, genuine artwork or open the latest in a series of best-selling novels, don’t think about the misdirection of wealth to the investment’s owner or to the signatory or to the name on the cover. If you enjoy it, that is all you, the consumer, can hope for. But do spare a thought for the poor apprentices and factory-worker ghosts who did the actual labor to produce the item that is bringing you pleasure.
Image courtesy of nokhoog_buchachon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net