Sunday, April 17, 2011

Elusive Authorship

A sculptor is designing a sculpture but does not sculpt it. He sends it to be executed by competent stone carver or a metal worker. Is he the author of the resulting art-work? I assume most of you would say-certainly, he is. I’d say- he is not.
Let’s say I have a splendid vision for a painting, but being a busy man I hand the elaborate task to my assistant and once the work is done to my satisfaction I sign it and exhibit it as mine. Fraud? Or perhaps it’s just efficient use of my resources. This time I guess much fewer of you would think that a painting could be painted by someone else and still retain the authorship of the artist.
That means the authorship is graduated from total [idea and execution] to very limited [idea only]. But what is the degree of authorship when even the idea is not really of the artist’s creation? Let’s say I decide to photograph a Monarch butterfly and I lurk in the garden until I get a good photo. There is hardly any originality in the “idea”; they are photographed all the time by many millions. The object of my choice is not a chimera of my imaginings. The way it was “captured” had simply documented it with the typical optics of a camera .The execution of the image belongs to some Oriental demi-god Nay-kon or Ca-Ca Non and all I did is  pushing  the button like a hotel guest pushing the elevator button. Should I step out of the elevator and say to everybody in the lobby that I am the Author of this unique elevator-ride? The only case I know when pushing buttons results in full authorship is typing a new book. Taking snapshots of the world is preserving data not belonging to you or anybody else you know. The author is mysteriously hidden, or- the author is the only thing you will ever see. To claim the authorship of a photo seemed always to me monstrously presumptuous in view of the plain fact that gathering data does not make you anything more than a collector.

In choosing painting as the discipline among visual arts gives one vast territory and opportunities for authorship. Whereas in other media much is already in place, like language for a novelist or granite for a sculptor, a painter can invent nearly any kind of rules expressed in the window of his work. Shadows in his painting can be so ancient they rust and peel. Every verticality can be melting as it rises. Every color can be shown not in its glorious fullness but as becoming itself, tending gradually toward its realization. The degrees to which objects are alive can be greatly amplified. I have to stop myself here sensing that I made my point: the authorship in painting can be huge, touching nearly every molecule in the painting. What exhilarating opportunity! How can we ever go to sleep!!!?

There is a deeper layer to the subject: are we ever true authors, even if the vision is ours and the full execution is done by our hands? My experience gives me an option to employ sharp power of rational thinking and arrive at some idea for a painting that by feeding, jazzing-up and many interventions can become a clever contrivance. Another option is to send a wish for a vision and wait for its arrival. It is all very unpredictable, wholly irrational, impossible to force or direct in any way. It may come or it may torment you with tardiness but when it suddenly shows up in your mind it is very surprising and new. A gift, really.Where from? Now, to approach an answer to that question I want to be unusually cautious. In the first place I would say-nobody knows. Sure, there are dust-bins of the old “sub-consciousness” mythology but that is just re-naming “nobody-knows”

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