Art Fakes and Forgeries

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Chris Wiley
English 1000
13 September 2010

Fakes and Forgeries
Lessing v. Dutton

The two essays, “What is Wrong with a Forgery,” by Alfred Lessing and “Artistic Crimes,” by Denis Dutton, explore the different reasons that they give negative connotation to the concept of an artistic forgery. Each author concludes that a forgery is indeed wrongful, however their reasons for this conclusion differ in several distinct ways. This essay will summarize both authors’ main points and compare and contrast the fundamental differences of their arguments.

Lessing begins “What is Wrong with a Forgery” by establishing that forgeries are not void of aesthetic value. In fact, he states that a clear distinction must be made between the qualities that make a piece of art aesthetically pleasing and the non-aesthetic qualities that art critics consider when analyzing a piece. The concept of a forgery, he says, is purely non-aesthetic and should not be used to describe the beauty of a piece. To further illustrate this point and later points in his essay, Lessing introduces the case of the Johannes Vermeer fakes done by Hans van Meegeren. The painting The Disciples was thought to be a Vermeer masterpiece for 7 years until van Meegeren revealed that he had actually done the painting and misrepresented it as Vermeer’s. Lessing says, “The fact that The Disciples is a forgery is just that, a fact. It is a fact about the painting which stands entirely apart from it as an object for aesthetic contemplation. The knowledge of this fact can neither add anything to nor subtract anything from the aesthetic experience.” Here Lessing establishes that his problem with the forgery does not lie within the aesthetic value of the art, so he introduces what he believes to be the real problem with a forgery: that it is an offense against what he calls “the spirit of the art,” and he contends that a forgery, such as The Disciples, “lacks artistic integrity.”

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