I expanded a bit on a blog post from last year with an essay for the Cumberland Law Review which takes up the tools of art authentication to argue that Go Set a Watchman should not be considered an authentic work by the author, and instead complicates the idea of authorship. Here’s the abstract:
For many lawyers, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird represents an important goal to which law and its practitioners should strive. The novel describes the struggle to achieve justice for a black man in the face of deep-seated institutional racism. It stands as a beloved work of literature, widely read and deeply appreciated. Therefore, any work that Lee would have written after To Kill a Mockingbird would have sparked tremendous interest, given the beloved place her first novel holds. But many other questions have arisen since the release of Go Set a Watchman. This essay aims to address how the authenticity of the novel should be weighed by using the tools of art historians and the art market.
I’ve posted a draft of a forthcoming work on art authentication on SSRN. The piece is scheduled for publication in the Mississippi Law Journal in the fall. I probably enjoyed writing this piece more than I should have. Our appetite for stories about art forgery and art authentication are indeed boundless, and in researching the piece, they’ve been boundless for a long time. Criminologists were studying art forgery as early as the 1960s. From the abstract:
The determination of a work of art as authentic (or not) makes a tremendous difference in the value of a work of art. Owing to the millions of dollars which can be added, or subtracted, to a work of art when an authentication opinion is made, lawsuits will often be the last resort of those unhappy with an authentication. Determining with absolute certainty, the authenticity of a work of art takes the combined expertise of art historians, scientists, and art connoisseurs. Previous examinations of the problem of art fraud and counterfeit art have focused on criminal offenses, pointed to market failures, and even argued that we should not care too much about fake art at all if nobody notices. These examinations all fail to give sufficient weight to the sheer difficulty of the task. It takes tremendous expertise required to correctly determine the artist who created a work of art, and the period in which the object was fashioned. The pages which follow argue art authentication and the experts who make them have gotten a bad reputation. Instead, their analysis should be properly valued as expert testimony in court in art authentication disputes, and should be protected from vexatious litigation.