ICONIC VERSUS AUTHENTIC.

In the course of a discussion of Steve Jobs and Norman Foster that does not interest me (but may interest the architecturally inclined among my readers), David Galbraith includes an anecdote that does:

Its a flaw of human nature to assume that revered individuals are authors of everything they touch. When historians argue over whether a Rembrandt is authentic, they miss the point, no Rembrandt was truly authentic, they were painted by a team that included Rembrandt himself to a greater or lesser degree, to maintain the house style. And there is one great anecdote that nails this myth of authorship – the famous Walt Disney signature. Walt Disney had really bad handwriting and someone else in the office created the recognizable version. When stills from Snow White were auctioned those that bore his actual signature fetched less than those with the iconic one. True authorship is a myth and this applies to Jobs.

While (being an unrepentant prepostmodernist) I dislike the simplistic conclusion (it’s silly to try to define too closely who is a true Scotsman, therefore there is no such thing as a Scotsman), I am intrigued by the anecdote and wonder if anyone knows the truth of it: was there an auction with that perverse result? (I realize the mentality that sneers at the very idea of authenticity is also likely to sneer at the very idea of “the truth of it”; so be it.)

Comments

  1. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. In this case, Steve Jobs is an icon for his ability to make great presentations and, arguably, be an a-hole.
    He is also an authentic genius with a team behind him (and maybe by himself too). I say this because I don’t think just anybody can step into the CEO role at Apple, much less build the team, and show that kind of genius.

  2. Reminds me of the old chestnut about Charlie Chaplin losing a Chaplin look-alike contest. Snopes has it probably as well as anybody:
    http://www.snopes.com/movies/actors/chaplin2.asp

  3. Kári Tulinius says:

    This page is probably the last word on Walt Disney’s signature. It seems not to bear out what Galbraith says (personally it seemed odd to me that a trained, succesful artist would have bad handwriting) though it is based on truth. The logo was standardized and there were other artists who were authorized to sign things in Disney’s name. But I could not find any record of that auction he mentions.

  4. When historians argue over whether a Rembrandt is authentic, they miss the point, no Rembrandt was truly authentic, they were painted by a team that included Rembrandt himself to a greater or lesser degree, to maintain the house style.
    Rembrandt’s a terrible example of a painter whose work was “painted by a team” or who had a “house style”, so no one’s “missing the point” here. What an irritating little piece. The only consolation is that since it’s written by a person who has no idea what he’s talking about we don’t have to take it very seriously.

  5. What an irritating little piece. The only consolation is that since it’s written by a person who has no idea what he’s talking about we don’t have to take it very seriously.
    Nice to hear that from someone more knowledgeable about this stuff than I!

  6. j. del col says:

    The whole argument falls apart when dealing with painters such as Vermeer. As far as I know, he did his paintings by himself.
    Sure, somebody will drag in van Meegeren, but his success at forging Vermeers says more about the incompetence of the so-called experts who examined his work than it does about Vermeer.

  7. That makes me mad.
    The person who bled over it, wrote it. Art is not created by committee.

  8. narrowmargin says:

    Shelley = At least one piece of art was, in fact, created by committee: the King James Bible. Its sheer literary power allows it to stand apart from its sources and makes it an Elizabethan document in its own right.
    (Yes, I know it was translated after Elizabeth’s death, but the translators were all born, raised, and educated in the Elizabethan age.)

  9. @Shelley:

    Art is not created by committee.

    That may be true for certain values of ‘art’— especially the Romantic idea of art as the product of the innermost soul. But it is certainly false for definitions that include the KJB, the Talmud, Keats’ Isabella or Eliot’s The Waste Land. Miller et al.’s Collaborative Literary Creation and Control: A Socio-Historic, Technological and Legal Analysis makes the point quite conclusively.

  10. Much art – I’d be tempted to say in the 21st century the majority of art we consume today – is collaborative art. If, eg, film can be art (and few here, I think, would argue against that) then it must be a collaborative art. But there is a difference in collaborative art between “art by committee” and “art by director”. Pound advised Eliot: Eliot accepted Pound’s collaboration. But Eliot didn’t put to the vote whether to accept or delete particular passages of The Wasteland: the final decisions were Eliot’s.

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