Is there a difference of aesthetic value between a genuine piece of art and an indistinguishable fake of it? Erez B., Israel

Thanks for your message. Most aestheticians today would, I think, say that there is usually not an aesthetic difference between these two things, but that there may well be other important differences. For instance, a genuine and a fake Vermeer will, by your hypothesis, look exactly the same, and if that is the case then (on the more common definition of "the aesthetic" as having primarily to do with primarily how an object appears to the senses) they will have the same aesthetic properties. On the other hand, the two works will differ drastically in other dimensions, such as historical interest, monetary value, originality, and so on.

Above I said 'usually', and here's why: In some cases the aesthetic value of a work does seem to depend on its actual provenance. Imagine a work that literally contains a piece of the artist's flesh, and that was intended to be known to do so. (Supppose he cut off his hand, and preserved it in fluid of some kind in an installation for all to see.) Most likely part of your experience of the work should depend on your knowledge of the fact that it contains part of the artist's flesh, and it's plausible that this is part of your aesthetic experience of the work as well. If that's right, then an indistinguishable fake (which, let's assume, didn't contain anyone else's flesh) would not have the same aesthetic value (to say nothing of artistic value) as the original.

By the way the case I've imagined is not so far-fetched. There have been artists who have made "works" out of shooting themselves, setting themselves on fire, locking themselves in cages with wolves, and so on. Regardless of what you may think of such cases, in all of them, having a real person involved in genuine events is crucial to their interpretation, and to their value.

Sell also Question 406.

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