Essentialist Beliefs in Aesthetic Judgments of Duplicate Artworks

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Abstract

Aesthetic philosophers assume that a forged identical copy of an artwork is aesthetically worse than the original, and experimental evidence suggests that nonphilosophers share the intuition. This presents an apparent puzzle because visually identical artworks might be thought to be equally good works of art regardless of their histories. We examine this puzzle by presenting participants with side-by-side identical images of artworks, labeled “first” and “second” to convey original/duplicate status in morally neutral language, while indicating that the creator of the second was either the same artist, the artist’s assistant, or a forger. Forgeries were devalued relative to artists’ duplicates on all dimensions. Assistants’ duplicates were devalued on historical (e.g., originality) but not broadly evaluative (e.g., beauty) dimensions, even when both duplicates were the second of a series of 10 and thus were equally duplicative. The results are not explained by moral or monetary evaluations and were observed for painting as well as photography, a medium in which duplication is standard practice. The pattern of judgments is consistent with beliefs in individual artifact essences.

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