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The death of the author

"Remember when only celebrities and CEOs hired novelists to write their books?" the Washington Post asks. "Now the novelists are hiring novelists."

Names like Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum are more like brands than names of a particular artist, the Post reports. Tom Clancy the person "oversees a vast farm of fiction writers who crank out stories that he imagines," we learn.

I suppose the reason it works in some cases but not others is that some "artists" don't mind putting their own name on other people's work. I can't wait until some contemporary artist tries this with a painting or sculpture done by a student — it would make a great joke, I think. (One (totally unsophisticated and doubtless unoriginal) pet theory of mine is that the essence of contemporary art is that it's all a joke.)

And just imagine the brouhaha this must be raising in literary criticism circles.

July 29, 2002 1:20 AM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

I think the practice has numerous precedents. In Renaissance (and probably many other) times, it was common for an artist to place only the finishing touches on a piece he/she would sign, most of the heavy lifting (heavy drafting?) having been done by students under the master's supervision. Plenty of "contemporary artists" pay craftsmen to translate ideas into artefacts (Koons, Hirst) and no one seems to think anything of it.

Personally though, I think it's low-rent and tends to produce things which are to art as Tom Clancy novels are to literature.

Posted by Senn on August 3, 2002 1:44 PM

Plenty of "contemporary artists" pay craftsmen to translate ideas into artefacts (Koons, Hirst) and no one seems to think anything of it.

True. I was imagining (though not explaining very well) a case where an artist put his or her own name on a student's (or other artist's) original work just to make a statement about authorship (and not to save labor). I.e., as a deliberate joke.

The difference, I think, is significant. When musicians, for instance, perform compositions written by other musicians, there is a difference between the (abstract) composition itself, and a particular performance of it — each is a distinct artistic creation. Craftsmen who execute or manufacture a sculpture or other physical work of art (perhaps a building, if architecture can be called art, too) are perhaps like performing musicians, but probably only artists to a lesser extent.

And Clancy et al.'s farms of writers are probably more like musicians than steelworkers, but they are creating the abstract composition in question, as well. Perhaps Clancy is responsible for some distinct artistic creation, related to that composition, but perhaps it's really just a big joke waiting to be pushed to its logical conclusion, and revealed.

Posted by M on August 4, 2002 10:38 PM

Death of the author is a result of two major influences on today's cultural society: Postmodernism and Globalisation. The death of the author in the contemporary art scene is not as hard-edged with un-creativity and non-authorship as it seems. It is definatley not a complete loss of authorship as is suggested. How can it be when the idea originated from the artist and said artist still puts his name on the work? Instead of 'The death of the author' perhaps it should be called 'revolution of the lazy'?!

Posted by New Pixie Artist on March 18, 2004 12:29 PM

Death of the author is a result of two major influences on today's cultural society: Postmodernism and Globalisation. The death of the author in the contemporary art scene is not as hard-edged with un-creativity and non-authorship as it seems. It is definatley not a complete loss of authorship as is suggested. How can it be when the idea originated from the artist and said artist still puts his name on the work? Instead of 'The death of the author' perhaps it should be called 'revolution of the lazy'?!

Posted by Anonymous on March 18, 2004 12:29 PM


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