Fake Art

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A fake can be defined as an artwork intended to deceive. The motives of its creator are decisive, and the merit of the object itself is a separate issue. The question mark in the title of Mark Jones’s Fake? The Art of Deception reveals the study’s broader concerns. Indeed, it might equally be entitled Original?, and the text begins by noting a variety of possibilities somewhere between the two extremes. These include works by an artist’s followers in the style of the master, deliberate archaism, copying for pedagogical purposes, and the production of commercial facsimiles.

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The greater part of Fake? is devoted to a chronological survey suggesting that faking feeds on the many different motives people have for collecting art, and that, on the whole, the faking of art flourishes whenever art collecting flourishes. In imperial Rome there was a widespread interest in collecting earlier Greek art, and therefore, in faking it. No doubt many of the sculptures now exhibited as “Roman copies” were originally passed off as Greek. In medieval Europe, because art was celebrated more for its devotional uses than for its provenance or the ingenuity of its creators, the faking of art was virtually nonexistent. The modern age of faking again in the Italian Renaissance, with two linked developments: a passionate identification with the world of antiquity and a growing sense of individual artistic identity. A patron of the young Michelangelo prevailed upon the artist to make his sculpture Sleeping Cupid look as though it had been buried in the earth so that “it will be taken for antique, and you will sell it much better.” Within a few years, however, beginning with his first masterpiece, the Bacchus, Michelangelo had shown his contemporaries that great art can assimilate and transcend what came before, resulting in a wholly original work. Soon his genius made him the object of imitators.

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Fake? also reminds us that in certain cultures authenticity is a foreign concept. This is true of much African art, where the authenticity of an object is considered by collectors to depend on its function. As an illustration, the study compares two versions of a chi wara mask made by the Bambara people of Mali. One has pegs allowing it to be attached to a cap for its intended ceremonial purpose. The second, otherwise identical, lacks the pegs and is a replica made for sale. African carving is notoriously difficult to date, but even if the ritual mask is recent, made perhaps to replace a damaged predecessor, and the replica much older, only the ritual mask should be seen as authentic, for it is tied to the form’s original function. That, at least, is the consensus of the so-called experts. One wonders whether the Bambaran artists would agree.

Topic and Scope:

Fake art; specifically, Mark Jones’s book-length examination of that subject.

Purpose and Main Idea:

Our author’s purpose is to review what Jones does in his book; in her phrase, she wants to “reveal the study’s broader concerns.” The Main Idea is simply that, as Jones illustrates, the issue of fake vs. original art is far more complicated than the mere question of “Was something faked?” The motive behind faking proves to be important, and in some cultures, function is key as well.

Paragraph Structure:

Paragraph 1 begins by telling us a necessary condition for fake art—that the motive of the copyer be to deceive; the work’s merit is a separate thing. The author immediately uses Mark Jones’ book Fake? to carry further the idea that fakery isn’t just a matter of making a copy: There are other relevant issues, motive being one big one. And indeed, the Paragraph lists situations that fall “somewhere between the two extremes” of original on the one hand, and fake on the other. One can readily concede that neither copying a master’s work, nor deliberately evoking the past, nor copying for teaching purposes, nor making facsimiles to be sold, meets the definition of “intended to deceive.” They’re not original; but they’re not fake either. So it is a knotty issue.

Paragraph 2, distills the bulk of Fake? The Art Of Deception into a Cook’s tour of how and why art was faked, from ancient Rome (where a big market in ancient Greek stuff inspired much fakery), through the Middle Ages (an era too religious to countenance much artistic funny business), to the Renaissance (where fakery really came into its own, for the reasons laid out in lines 23-27). Presumably Jones’s book takes one to the present day, but our author has polished off her take on present-day fakery in Paragraph 1 and so our chronological summary stops with the often-faked Michelangelo.

Paragraph 3 is really a side trip: The author’s still on the topic of fake art, but the scope has shifted to a specific exception that is illustrated by a specific example from Jones’s book. African art, we’re told, illustrates that in some cultures, functionality is important to whether a copy is fake or not. She offers the two Bambara chi wara masks—identical but for the pegs that attach the mask to a cap during a ritual—as an example of an instance in which authenticity hinges on function.

The Big Picture:

  • Your understanding of necessary vs. sufficient conditions is tested all over the CAT—even here in Reading Comp. (see, for example, sentence 1). Always look to differentiate between that which is required to bring about a result, and that which is enough to bring about a result.
  • Not only must you watch for the author’s point of view; you must watch for its absence. Here, in contrast to other “book-review” passages where authors see both pros and cons in the works under consideration, our author seems to sign on to everything that’s in Jones’s book; she neither carps nor criticizes. It’s important to notice that.
  • Finally, watch for Paragraphs that are relevant to the broad topic but represent a distinct scope shift. Paragraph 3 is one such. You’ll be tested on this.

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