Author and English professor Don Foster contributes an Op-Ed piece to Sunday’s New York Times called “Mind Over Splatter,” offering his insight into a current debate raging over some paintings that may – or may not – be authentic Jackson Pollock work:
At the heart of the controversy lie critical questions about artistic meaning and value that have vexed literary scholars no less than art historians. Would the exposure of a hitherto successful forgery diminish Jackson Pollock’s reputation as a unique creative genius, by demonstrating that his work is replicable? If Shakespeare were credited with a mediocre poem hitherto presumed to be written by a lesser light, would that change our opinion of Shakespeare?
“What matter who’s speaking?” asked Michel Foucault, quoting Samuel Beckett.
What matter whose painting? The implied answer — no matter at all — takes for granted that cultural artifacts are symptomatic of the society that produced them. The critic’s job, then, is to assess the product on its own merits, quite apart from the artist’s name or reputation. If “Hamlet” had been written by Christopher Marlowe or Edward de Vere, not by William Shakespeare, would the text therefore be less great? Perhaps not, but we would think of it in a different way.
Coincidentally, this is at the heart of a documentary we’re premiering at SXSW 2006, entitled Who the $#%& is Jackson Pollock?.