Art works, ontology of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M012-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

4. Autographic and allographic

In the previous section we focused on the question, ‘Under what conditions is this work identical with that one?’ We now turn to a different but related question: ‘What makes an object an instance of this work rather than of that one?’ The canvas painted by Leonardo is a genuine instance of The Madonna of the Rocks; it is also an authentic instance deriving from the hand of the artist, and those who think painting a singular art say that, for that reason, it is the only instance. The prints pulled from Rembrandt’s plate by the artist himself (or authorized by him) are genuine instances of the etching Tobit Blind; they are also authentic instances. Are they the only instances? Those who think the artist’s canvas is the only instance of a painting will presumably say yes, on the grounds that printmaking is like painting in that only authentic items are instances of the work. In line with this idea, Goodman classifies paintings, sculptures, prints and moulded figures as ‘autographic’. Something is an instance of an autographic work only if it has a certain history of production; these arts are all autographic, then, because to be an instance of a work in any of these forms, the thing in question must issue from the hand of the artist, or by their instructions. Autographic arts can be singular, as with painting, or multiple, as with prints.

What, on the other hand, makes something an instance of the novel Emma? For Goodman, the criterion is that it should have the same spelling as Austen’s autograph; in this and like cases we identify objects as instances of particular works by their structural features and not in terms of their histories of production. A typing monkey could produce something which is, in Goodman’s sense, an instance of Emma, and a monkey with the luck to strike the right piano keys will produce a performance of the Hammerklavier sonata. Novels, poems, plays and musical works are all ‘allographic’ because of the irrelevance of history to the identification of work-instances. Allographic works are all multiple.

If we accept the argument of §1 according to which authentic instances of paintings, sculptures, prints and moulded figures have no privileged status, we shall deny Goodman’s claim that, for works of these kinds, the only instances are the authentic ones. We shall say that indiscernible copies of authentic instances are also instances. Still, we would remain broadly in agreement with Goodman, for the condition of being a copy of an authentic instance is one that appeals to history of production, and so these arts remain autographic. A more radical disagreement with Goodman emerges when we consider the contextualist’s argument of §3 which claims that literary and musical works need to be identified historically. If that argument is right, and two distinct novels or sonatas could have the same structure, then, before we can know whether this performance is a performance of B or of J, we need to know whether the performers’ knowledge of the score is traceable through a causal chain back to B’s act of scoring or to J’s. That way, being an instance of a literary or musical work is partly a matter of history of production, and so all works are to be categorized as autographic. Something which looks exactly like Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks might not be an instance of that work because it is copied from another, independently produced, canvas of identical appearance. And this bundle of pages is a copy of Emma rather than of the same-spelled but independently produced Schemma because it derives causally from Austen’s act of composition and not from that of her lesser-known rival Schmausten. We now have a uniform theory of identity conditions for art works of all the kinds considered here.

Citing this article:
Currie, Gregory. Autographic and allographic. Art works, ontology of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M012-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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