Paintings, Conceptual Art, and Persons

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Paintings, Conceptual Art, and PersonsAuthor(s): David CarrierSource: Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the AnalyticTradition, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Feb., 1980), pp. 187-195Published by: SpringerStable URL: .Accessed: 25/06/2014 06:29Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact .Springer is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Philosophical Studies: AnInternational Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition. This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 06:29:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions CARRIER PAINTINGS, CONCEPTUAL ART, AND PERSONS (Received 23 February, 1979) Goodman says1: Let us speak of a work of art as autographic ... if and only if even the most exact duplica- tion of it does not thereby count as genuine. If a work of art is autographic, we may also call that art autographic. Paintings are autographic artworks identified with that object made by painter. Engravings are autographic artworks consisting of all those prints made from the right original plate. Written literary works are allographic artworks. Consider two questions about how painting might change. First, could paintings, like engravings, be construed as having multiple instances? Second, could painting become an allographic art? Clearly these are different ques- tions. I start with the first question. II Today we say: Painting p at time t, is the same painting as painting q at later time t2 if and only if p is essentially the same physical object as q. The Mona Lisa is essentially that material object made by Leonardo; that is, we disregard minor repainting, or losses of small bits of the original pigment. Here is a thought experiment suggesting paintings could come to have multiple instances. Suppose Leonardo invented color photography, and made full size photographs of Mona Lisa. An art historian writes: "A dense film of varnish and patina has become a shield to our understanding of Leo- nardo's intentions"2. He might find such photographs more revealing about Leonardo's picture than the Louvre painting. Generalize this procedure. Call PI 1, P12, ...superxerox copies of p if when one of them is put side by side with p, nobody can tell them apart. Then, Philosophical Studies 37 (1980) 187-195. 0031-8116/80/0372-0187$00.90 Copyright ? 1980 by D. Reidel Publishing Co., Dordrecht, Holland, and Boston, U.S.A. This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 06:29:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions DAVID CARRIER P21, P22, ...are the superxerox copies of pII or p12 or.... Call any superxerox copy ultimately derived from p a descendent of p. To say - this painting was done in 1520: Take care in touching it, for it has just come out of the superxeroxing machine and is still wet - would be no more paradoxical than saying: Lolita was published in 1955; my copy was printed in 1973. Superxeroxing would change how we think about painting. But, altarpieces are taken from churches to museums; bright artificial lighting replaces natural lighting; works from very different periods are juxtaposed. Changes produced by superxeroxing may be no more drastic than these al- ready accepted changes. Painting would remain an autographic art. Any copy would be an instance of Mone Lisa if and only if that copy were a descendent of the Louvre Mona Lisa. Painting would become like engraving, an art where there are multiple copies of a given work. And like engravings, copies of a painting would be defined by their causal history. A simple extension of arguments drawn from chapter three, Languages of Art shows why superxeroxing won't work. Goodman shows that even if today we can't tell paintings p and q apart, in the future we may learn to tell them apart. With superxeroxing this problem is much more serious. Any copying process introduces errors. Even if I can't tell p and P II apart, nor Pn I and P(n + 1) 1 apart, I may be able to tell p and P(n + 1) 1 apart. However small the error at each stage of superxeroxing, after enough stages, that error can be arbitrarily large. In one crucial respect, superxeroxed paintings and engravings are very different. All engravings are made from one plate. Engraving involves only a single stage of copying. There is no way to make a genuine engraving by copying a genuine one. And the original plate is not itself an engraving. Super- xeroxing involves multiple stages of copying; and the original object, that object painted by the painter, is itself an instance of the painting. In the previous paragraph 1 used the fact that an arbitrary number of stages of copy- ing are possible to argue that superxeroxing is impossible. That claim needs justification. Otherwise a critic might hold, correctly, that by restricting the number of stages of superxeroxing, we can prevent the copies from looking too different from the original, and thus defeat my argument. Such a critic needs to explain why the superxeroxing should stop at any given point. Suppose the critic allows that PI1,P12, ...are instances of the painting. All of the reasons for thinking that also seem to be reasons for This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 06:29:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions, CONCEPTUAL ART, AND PERSONS 189 thinking P2I, P22, ...are instances of the painting. To appeal to the fact that P I ,P12, ..., but notp21 ,P22, ...are copied directly fromp is illegitimate. For once the critic admits that p I , P 12 ...are, like p, instances of the painting, then p loses its special status as the painting and becomes just another instance of the painting. TIhe argument against superxeroxing cannot be defeated by noting that different genuine engravings do sometimes look quite different. My point about superxeroxing is that once we allow many stages of copying, descendants of the original may look arbitrarily different from that original. Thus, with the accumulation of copying errors, some remote descendent of Mona Lisa may look rather like Rain, Steam and Speed; conversely, some descendant of the Turner may look like the Mona Lisa. To accept this result is intolerable; we would have lost entirely our ability to individuate paintings. That is, we would be unable to tell of a given work whether it was an instance of Mona Lisa or an instance of Rain, Stean and Speed or an instance of neither. III Could painting become an allographic art? Allographic arts possess a notation. The identity of allographic artworks is defined independently of their history. Thus a novel has certain words in a certain order. Any other text with the same words in the same order, and no other words, is an instance of the same novel. Different instances of the book may differ drastically in other ways. They may be printed with different type faces, or on different sizes and colors of paper. Of course, there are aesthetic but not strictly literary reasons to prefer one copy of a literary work to another. For example, the type face of one copy may be exceptionally attractive. And in a few cases, the artwork, though essentially a literary work, also has some qualities of a visual artwork. For example, in Un coup de des the spacing of the words on the page is important. Establishing the correct text of a literary work may raise considerable problems. Consider the issues raised by the recent publication of the original text of The Wasteland. But clearly these problems are not philosophical ones of interest here. Could there be a notation for painting? Goodman writes3: If and when reproductions of a picture come to be accepted as no less original instances than the original painting... then indeed the art could become allographic. This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 06:29:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions DAVID CARRIER Thus the Homeric poems, originally part of an oral tradition, are now part of written literature. And improvised jazz or rock performnances can be written in a musical notation. Goodman distinguishes between the constitutive and contingent properties of a work. What is constitutive of a written literary work is that it possess the right words in the right order: the color of ink, type face used, word spac- ing, etc. are contingent. All constitutive features of a work need not be of aesthetic significance. My argument that follows relies only on the weaker claim that any constitutive feature may turn out to be an aesthetically significant feature, even if it isn't aesthetically significant today. For there to be a notation for painting we need a list fi ... fm of all the constitutive features. To show that no such list can be made for painting I want to consider now a number of examples in which new constitutive features have been, or could be discovered. (1) Morelli revolutionized attribution procedures by checking the artist's depiction of ears, fingers and other minor features4. Each master painted these features in a distinctive fashion; and because they were thought to be minor, they were not features forgers or students would copy. (2) In recent debates about the roles of Bellini and Titian in the composi- tion of Feast of the Gods, fine details of over-painting and X-rays of the painting have provided crucial evidence5 . Certain peculiarities of the back- ground landscape become comprehensible once we see how Titian modified Bellini's original design. (3) Johannes Wilde points out that earlier critics failed to notice that Titian's late Pieta is actually an enlargement of a work painted consider- ably earlier6 The fact of two distinct periods of execution... is confirmed by a physical examination... the center part was painted on (one) canvas... (and) the additions have transformed this image.... (4) Recent work on Pisanello draws heavily on the evidence of the prelimin- ary drawings, the sinopia, underneath the frescoes in the Gonzaga Court7. Though these drawings were never intended to be seen, looking at them can teach us about the finished work. (5) The previous examples were actual cases from art history. Here is a science fiction example. Suppose we develop a technique, somewhat like present tests for identifying handwriting, for determining who made each This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 06:29:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions, CONCEPTUAL ART, AND PERSONS 191 brushstroke in a work. Then our interpretation of works made by artists who had many assistants - Rubens, Titian, and Giotto for example -- might be changed. We might discover that some of the best passages in Ruben's paint- ings were due not to the master, but to some assistant. IV To believe that a notation for painting is possible is to believe that today we can pick out all the aesthetically significant features. But since in these four actual cases, and the one science fiction case we find features, preciously un- noticed, to be of aesthetic significance, it would take a certain chutzpah to assume that now all the aesthetically significant features of paintings have been discovered. Since a notation for painting requires being able to list all the constitutive features, I conclude that the prospects for developing a nota- tion are dim. Nothing in my discussion implies that some procedure like superxeroxing would not be of great practical use. In fact, recently interesting work has been done in making such copies. My point is that such procedures do not change the special status of the original painting, that object made by the artist. These procedures are not of philosophical interest; they would not change the status of painting as an autographic art without multiple instances. v Consider now the application of this account to some recent visual art, con- ceptual artworks. One of the sources of conceptual art is Duchamp's work. Here are two ways of thinking about his ready mades. First, if Fountain is an artwork, then so too are other (almost) physically identical urinals. Second, Fountain differs from those urinals in being that object chosen by Duchamp. Like traditional artworks, it is identified by reference to its history. Leaving aside here this debate about the ready mades, imagine one small modification in Duchamp's procedures. His general aim was to make art by doing less making than traditional artists. Suppose he said: 'Whoever takes a urinal to the museum will have made an artwork'. Then he would have made This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 06:29:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions DAVID CARRIER a conceptual artwork. Presenting the idea for an artwork suffices to get credit for making that work. Sol LeWitt said: 8 (Make) lines, not short, not straight, crossing and touching, drawn at random, using four colors... uniformly dispersed with maximum density covering the entire surface of the wall. Any object with these features is an instance of his conceptual artwork. The conceptual artist's instructions function like the plate from which copies of an engraving are printed. The phrase 'causal connection' describes the feature common to the relation between the original plate and the engrav- ings made from it, and the relation between the conceptual artist's instruc- tions and instances of that conceptual artwork. Conceptual artworks do differ from traditional visual art in two respects. First, what I called in section two 'our ability to individuate different works' no longer holds. There I required that it cannot be the case that r is an instance of two distinct artworks. But consider two of my conceptual art- works: t: Tap a well-known philosopher; v: Tap the author of at least five books. I make t but not v by tapping Saul Kripke; and v but not t by tapping Robbe- Grillet. Tapping Richard Wollheim, I can make both t and v. Second, the in- structions telling how to make the conceptual artwork can be copied, and works produced from these copies of the original instructions are presumably instances of that conceptual artwork. The plate used in engraving cannot be copied and used to produce instances of the same engraving. This difference exists because the description of the conceptual work, unlike the original plate, is presented in a notation. These differences between conceptual art and traditional visual art seem less significant than the similarities between the two. The essential point, which makes conceptual art an autographic art, is that conceptual artworks are defined by reference to their history. The failure of conceptual artists to understand this theoretical point had amusing consequences. By trying to make allographic visual artworks the con- ceptual artists aimed to change the social status of art. One Soho Marxist wrote: 9 It's not insignificant that the work of fine art is embedded in our art language as a... This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 06:29:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions, CONCEPTUAL ART, AND PERSONS 193 unique commodity. What... is special about uniqueness... (is that it) is the most highly treasured and privileged characteristic in the exchange market. But soon successful conceptual artists found themselves as rich as success- ful painters and sculptors. VI Initially my familiarity with accounts of personal identity led me to consider the problem of the identity of paintings. Gedanken-experiments with brain transplants suggested that the identity of a person might be defined indepen- dently of the identity of their body. As, superxeroxing or the development of a notation suggests that paintings could cease to be identified with unique objects. Discussing personal identity, 'conservatives' argued: Our concept of a person becomes incoherent when a person's memories cease to be linked to the spatiotemporal continuity of their body. 'Radicals' suggested: Given brain transplants, someone could remain the same person while 'changing' from one body to another. Because the arguments for the change in the status of paintings fail, it doesn't follow that the analogous 'radical' arguments about personal identity will fail. Rather, some interesting differences between the nature of persons and paintings are revealed. Persons' bodies change gradually. On any view of personal identity, I am the same person as someone who was once there so long as my body is spatiotemporally continuous with his. By contrast, paintings are objects which we want to remain unchanged. Imagine a painting to gradually have bits of pigment removed and replaced with new pigment, in the way that the physical matter of our bodies gradually changes. When no physical part of the original painting remains, I think we would say that that painting has ceased to exist. As one expert on art conservation says 10: "the function of restoration... is single... it checks... the process of destruction". Persons are entities evolving through time. Paintings do not change in any analogous way. Some recent 'process art' is more like persons than traditional paintings in this respect. I Some artists say: 'Whatever changes occur in my artwork become the properties of my artwork'. I believe that such artworks are, for us, special marginal cases. If a culture thought about visual artworks in this way, as we think about persons, their concept of art would be radically different from ours. This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 06:29:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions DAVID CARRIER Recently Richard Wollheim has made, and David Wiggins amplified upon, this suggestion: Think of a painting as an object intended by the artist to change over time 12. In Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne - whose cleaning caused such controversary - Ariadne's cloak, intended to be bright scarlet in 1600, was intended to age to a dull brown by 1950. If this suggestion is correct, everything I have said about the differences between identity of persons and identity of paintings in this section is wrong. It seems to me that this sugges- tion threatens to lead to an unacceptable slippery-slope argument; if Adriad- ne's cloak becomes dark brown by 1950, are we to allow that it becomes dull black by 2050? But the implications of this suggestions for both the theory of art and the practice of art conservation are so important that they deserve treatment in another paper13. Carnegie-Mellon University NOTEN 1 Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art (Hackett, Indianapolis, 1976), p. 113. 2 Carlo Pedretti, Leonardo (Thames and Hudson, London, 1973), p. 133. Goodman, Problems and Projects (Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1972), p. 136. 4 See Richard Wollheim, 'Giovanni Morelli and the origins of scientific connoisseur- ship', in his: On Art and the Mind (Allen Lane, London, 1973), pp. 17 7-201. 5 See John Walker, Bellini and Titian at Ferrara (Phaidon, London, 1956). 6 Johannes Wilde, Venetian Art from Bellini to Titian (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1974), p. 208. See Giovanni Paccagnini, Pisanello, Tr. by J. Carroll (Phaidon, London, 1973). 8 From Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object, ed. by L. Lippard (Praeger, New York, 1973), p. 201. Ian Burn, 'Pricing works of art', The Fox, 1 (1975), p. 74. 10 Richard Offner, 'Restoration and conservation', in: Problems of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Acts of the 20th International Congress of the History of Art, Vol. 4 (Princeton UP, Princeton, 1963), p. 159. l See the issue of arts magazine devoted to Robert Smithson: Vol. 52 (May 1978). 12 Wollheim, 'Are the criteria of identity that hold for a work of art in the different arts aesthetically relevant?', Ratio XX (1978), pp. 29-48, and Wiggins, 'Reply to Richard Wollheim', same journal and issue, pp. 52-68. 13 Nelson Goodman, Alexander Nehamas, Nelson Potter, Mark Roskill, Thomas Schwartz and an anonymous referee for another journal made extremely helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. I am especially indebted to Jennefer Robinson for her work as a commentator at the Fall, 1978 American Society for Aesthetics convention. Alan Orenstein has indicated to me that what I say in section six overlaps with his un- published Oxford D. Phil. Dissertation. Since most of the literature on this question is, in my opinion, entirely misguided, I refrain from listing it. I believe that Goodman confuses some readers by raising in his account two issues which are quite independent of the main argument traced out in this paper. First, he This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 06:29:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions, CONCEPTUAL ART, AND PERSONS 195 uses Van Meegeren's Vermeers as an example of forgeries. Forgeries raising the essential problem are would-be duplicates of genuine works. Forgeries in the style of an artist, like the Van Meegerens, raise problems of induction treated elsewhere by Goodman. Second, when discussing the possibility of a notation for painting. Goodman sometimes writes as if his concern relates to how in the future visual arts with a notation might be developed. For me - since I have no predictions about the future of art to offer - the question is whether a notation is possible for the paintings presently in our museums. It is probably not exactly correct to say that these questions are entirely separate. The history of music suggests that making new artworks using a notation might give the mo- tivation for developing a notation for already existing works. My arguments in this paper suggest that such a project would be ill advised in the visual arts. This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 06:29:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Contentsp. [187]p. 188p. 189p. 190p. 191p. 192p. 193p. 194p. 195Issue Table of ContentsPhilosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Feb., 1980), pp. 115-214Causal Preemption and Counterfactuals [pp. 115-124]Again on Existence as a Predicate [pp. 125-138]Reverse Discrimination, Shackled Runners, and Personal Identity [pp. 139-149]Open Questions, Speech Acts and Analyticity [pp. 151-163]Are Human Rights Alienable? [pp. 165-176]The Power to Act [pp. 177-185]Paintings, Conceptual Art, and Persons [pp. 187-195]Merrill on What a Sentence Says [pp. 197-200]Reply to Bailey [pp. 201-202]Reply in Defense of Hohfeld [pp. 203-209]Mavrodes on Omnipotence [pp. 211-214]