A Note on Copies

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A Note on Copies

Nelson Goodman The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 44, No. 3. (Spring, 1986), pp. 291-292. Stable URL: ht

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A Note on Copies Nelson Goodman The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 44, No. 3. (Spring, 1986), pp. 291-292. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0021-8529%28198621%2944%3A3%3C291%3AANOC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-T The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism is currently published by The American Society for Aesthetics.

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Criticism and Countertheses A Note on Copies

Professor Kennick's comments on my discussion of authenticity in art gives rise to a few further reflections. ' He complains that I use the terms "forgery", "fake", "copy", "reproduction", "imitation", etc. more or less interchangeably in my discussion. That is not because I consider them "all, at least approximately, synonymous," as he suspects, but because my primary concern was with the difference between what is and what is not the genuine original painting. Some copies may be intended to deceive, others not. And some copies not intended to deceive may be used to deceive, and thus function as forgeries, while some copies intended to deceive may be used as mere copies. We may, if we like, distinguish forgeries from other copies by the intention of the makers, or better, I think, by the way the copies function at a given time. 1 agree with Kennick that the notion of a copy is itself unexpectedly complex. One might suppose offhand that a necessary though clearly not sufficient condition for a copy is that it denote whatever the original denotes. But that condition is irrelevant when the original denotes nothing, as when the subject is mythological or otherwise fictional, or when as in abstract art the original has no subject at all. Nor is any specific similarity to the original required of, or sufficient for, a copy. Two Holbein portraits of the same person, or indeed all Holbein's painted portraits, may be more like each other than a pencil copy of any of them by another artist is like the original. 1 shall go no further here into this question of copies than to point out that an acknowledged copy may function in either of two different ways. It may refer to the original, as do photographs, slides, or sketches used in studying or teaching art, or it may serve instead of the original, as do reproductions or other copies used for decoration, or copies of family portraits used to refer to their subject rather than to the original or any other pictures.'

Quotations in painting, as Kennick observes, involve copies. In direct verbal quotation, the quoting expression (for example, a word with quotation marks around it) must both denote and contain the quoted expression. But while a painting may denote-may be a picture of-another painting, a painting seldom contains the picture referred to. The nearest that a painting can come to directly quoting Rembrandt's "Night Watch" is to refer to it by containing a copy of it, shown for example as in a frame or on an easel. For painting, the conditions uoon direct auotation have to be relaxed to this extent because, while to contain any inscription or replica of a verbal expression is to contain that expression, a painting is autographic and nothing else qualifies as an instance of it but only, at most, as a copy of it.' Like many commentators on my work, Kennick brings up the case of Moholy-Nagy's dictated multiples. If Kennick's aim is to show that painting is not necessarily autographic, I never said that it was. What constitutes identity of a work derives from practice, and practice may change. I doubt, though, that current practice accepts the objects dictated by Moholy-Nagy as "original paintings." On the other hand, if Kennick's aim is merely to show that the maker of the objects or events that constitute a work need not be the author of that work, we have many more familiar examples in two-stage arts, both autographic and allographic. The printer of an etching need not be the etcher; the performer of a piano sonata need not be the composer. I am grateful for Professor Kennick's thoughtful consideration of my work, and I hope the above remarks may be helpful.

Harvard University

' See W.E. Kennick. "Art and Inauthenticity," this Journal, 44 no. 1 (1985), 3-12; and Nelson Goodman



L a n ~ u ~ ~ (?/ ~ cArt, , . ~ ?nd rd. (Indianapolis, 1976). Chapter

ill. pp. 99-123. ' Sec further Nelson Goodman, "Variations on Variation." lecture at the conference on Philosophy of Music at

the University of Helsinki. Sept. 5 , 1985; fonhcolning in the Proceedings of that conference. ' Sec funher Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmoking (Indianapolis. 1978). Chapter 111, pp. 41-70.

The Center Surviving Mondrian

Gregory Schufreider's article Overpowering the Center (this Journal 44 no. 1 119851: 13-28) gives me the welcome opportunity to clarify some implications of the theory of visual composition I presented in my book The Power of the Center. In that book I describe two compositional patterns, the interaction of which creates the structure underlying works of visual art. Schufreider selects three examples from Piet Mondrian to suggest that in the Dutch painter's work one of these patterns, the organization around an internal center, is conspicuously absent. Mondrian's approach to composition is said therefore to be one of the exceptions that defeat my rule. Schufreider's detailed analysis refers to so many of the observations I need to illustrate my case that I cannot hope to offer true surprises to him or to our readers. But his argumentation also tells me that some of the fundamental conditions for the phenomenon under discussion call for some further refinement. For the present purpose it suffices to limit the discussion to one of the two compositional patterns, that of centricity. First, a "center" as discussed here is not a physical portion of the kind of object artists produce. It is not a centerpiece, not a bit of pigment or marble. It is rather a perceptual quality acquired by certain locations in visual space when certain configurational conditions obtain. Once a portion of a painting occupies such a distinguished location, it may be endowed with the centric quality. It may become a center. Similarly, the spatial role of visual objects is determined by their relation to such a center or such centers. Perceptual centers are brought about by visible objects or configurations of such objects. Every patch of paint or piece of stone is perceived as being organized around an internal center. Likewise, the confinement of an area, be it the outline of a circle or square on paper or the slabs of Stonehenge, creates a center, which may or nlay not be occupied. We can only vaguely speculate on the neurological facts that create perceptual centers in this universal fashion, but their existence is as evident as that of the gravitational centers in physics. They account for such basic phenomena as balance. The confinement of a picture by a frame creates a center by way of perceptual induction, that is,

indirectly. How artists deal with it depends on the style of their work. They may choose to strengthen the center by occupying it with a principal object and surrounding it symmetrically with the remainder of the composition. A religious icon can obtain a maximum of hierarchic stability by this means. At the other extreme, artists may eschew such stabilizing dominance. They may strive for the creation of a world made up of a multiplicity of centers coordinating or struggling for dominance. They may prefer a strong accent off center or, on the contrary, a homogeneous universe in which no places stand out. The power retained at the center of the framed area under such circumstances varies widely. All eccentricity derives its character and meaning from the perceived presence of the related center, whereas in a homogenous field the search for the center may be frustrated or perhaps give way to a blissful nirvana, an emptiness constituting the limiting case of cornposition. The lifework of Mondrian presents the extraordinary case of a world in which a maximum of stability combines with a sense of nowhere and everywhere. It is a world solidly based throughout on a rightangled uniform scaffold. Being the same wherever you go, it is devoid of the Archimedean fulcrum. It is beyond any anchoring place for the viewer, and while every view shown to him offers a reliahle sample of the whole, that partial view is no more than an accidental glimpse at a cosmic continuunl extending endlessly in all directions. The religious nature of the underlying attitude, a blend of being trustful and forlorn. has often been noted. The visual complexity of this abstract imagery reverberates through Schufreider's sensitive analysis, but is seems to me that two of his three examples are poorly chosen. He tries to show that in the early years Mondrian practiced centric composition but moved away from it to the point of abandoning it entirely in his later work. Both of these statements seem to me misleading. Schufreider's first example does indeed contain a strong central square, but this feature cannot be said to be typical of the group of works of around 1917 from which it is taken. Rather those pictures display squares or rectangles floating loosely in empty space and continuing beyond the limit of the canvas, which overlaps them almost accidentally.