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date: 15 October 2019

Authenticitylocked

  • Thierry Lenain

Extract

The concept that a thing (person, object, type of behaviour, etc.) is what it seems, or is said, or believed to be. Implicit in the very notion of authenticity is the possibility of misrepresentation. In essence, to be authentic is to be the opposite of fake or phony. Authenticity is judged by performing tests to verify that external appearance and substantial reality actually match. An artwork can be deemed ‘authentic’ as a work of art (as opposed to a mere product without artistic value); as the product of a particular artist (a Monet, rather than a work by another artist in his style); as an artefact of a specific time (a 14th-century sculpture, as opposed to a Gothic Revival imitation); or as an object composed of a particular material (a bronze sculpture, versus one made of plaster with a bronze-like patina).

Each judgement of authenticity is based on a different set of criteria. To conclude that someone is authentic as a person is to say that his or her way of behaving is in accordance with their inner self, personal values, social background, and life choices; this is a moral judgement that cannot be reduced to assessing the presence or absence of objective features. Similarly, pronouncing an object a genuine artwork denotes that it is the result of real artistic talent and sincere commitment. This assessment relies on an element of subjectivity and is always dependent on a specific cultural context that will define which class of objects can be elevated to the status of art. It also carries moral overtones as it amounts to a declaration of whether the object in question was made by a true artist acting as such, that is, by someone faithful to the essential and somehow transcendent demands of art....

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