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Against Art Forgeries

I sent this to The New York Times on November 5, 2013. It was in a response to an editorial defending art forgeries. It is a short essay on ethics and aesthetics, but never published—until now.

Blake Gopnik’s defense of art forgeries “as the art lover’s friend” is an impressive piece of sustained sophistry. All seven arguments he offers fail miserably.

First, if a forgery can fool an expert, it can give the rest of us pleasure. Gopnik thinks this is good. But pleasure does not justify deceit, nor does pleasure define the meaning of art.

Second, the forger may reveal what the copied artist might have himself done; he may even reveal the artists inner essence. Lying imitations have nothing to do with artistic continuity or revelations.

Third, forgeries are justified because artists often use assistants. This is a false analogy, since the artists authorized these assistants, unlike forgers.

Fourth, art forgeries can “tame our absurd art market” by bringing down prices. This comment—if true—has no force, and it purely utilitarian. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Fifth, forgeries endorsed by art experts teach us that “connoisseurship is not to be trusted.” This is illogical. Everyone already knows that connoisseurs are fallible. But they may be fallible and generally reliable, like all merely human judges.

Sixth, because some ancient cultures endorsed the copying and augmenting of valued artworks, this justifies forgeries today. On the contrary, these copies were culturally-authorized and well-accepted—and not forgeries. Seventh, much of 20th  Century art, such as Duchamp’s, “set out to undermine idea of unique authentic, hand-touched works of art.” This is true, but irrelevant. Duchamp’s ready-mades were not forgeries, because he did not claim to make them.

Gopnik’s ambitious essay fails to marshal any good arguments. We await a better apologist for artistic deception.

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