Fuck Provenance

To the tune of: The Durutti Column – Trust The Art Not The Artist

Fuck provenance. The joy of many modern critics seems to lie in the attribution of intention to the auteur, or at least cause to the auteur, focusing on the backstory more than the object of study; the importance of something is thus pushed back, the homunculus raised to the point of key importance, and credit or blame ascribed to this new creation instead of the creator or the piece, and so on, ad infinitum. The homunculus is to blame, no it’s the sense of ego, no it’s the neuroticism in that ego, etc. Value drains out of the object and down this chain of blame or praise.

What does this hunting for origins add to the enjoyment of the piece? What does knowing where Jeunet grew up add to the value of Jules et Jim, or even knowing Jeunet made it? Provenance is not mandatory knowledge for the appreciation of a good. As if a single billionaire could tell the difference between a identical diamond dug out of the ground in Africa and one compressed in a Russian machine, but they pay the price for the story. It’s the placebo effect, carried over to appreciation; oh, this was Nabokov’s cap, my look at the lining, that must be his sweat staining the hat-band, my, I’m enjoying this hat so much more. This steak was cut from Wagyu beef; not grown in Japan, no, nor of the same breed, nor subject to the possibly-mythical abuse/massage, but it’s Wagyu despite the lack of relevant attributes. If the sense data is the same, what matters the origin?

Much of this painting's quality is from the canvas's texture; whether that was intended or not is unknowable and doesn't matter.

This approach is used in food, increasingly, and I was with Delia in her kickback against the snobbery of food provenance; some of the most interesting food I’ve eaten has been cheap, or canned, or frozen, (though the mediocrity of source matters as little as the quality, of course, and inverted snobbery is as bad as the original.) In the arts (movies, games, paintings), we ask what the intention of the author is, as if that’s relevant to the finished product. Yet intention does not imply result, especially where silver-tongued auteurs are involved, and correlation does not imply causation. I judge Gaugin on his skill levels and the general quality of his works (occasionally good texturing, great colour range, poor penmanship/perspective); I judge his artwork on its own merits.

Again, if you’re a subconscious determinist, you might argue for the creator’s story being important irrespective of what he actually intended, the act of creation being valuable whether or not the direction was accurate. I, personally, don’t understand this. I have no problem with you appreciating a story; but it should not impinge on the important aesthetic judgement, that comes from you irrespective of history. The way cut glass grates against your incisor; the satisfaction in the predictable kickback of Bioshock’s shotgun; the richness of colour I’m told raw meat and Van Gogh’s paintings possess; the surprising toxicity of lead-based paints eating away at your reason. These are the raw materials for your judgement, not the supposed intentions of a fellow human black box, not that the water of this distillery flows through peat bogs; I just love the scent of smoke from that glass, and I don’t need to know why it’s there to appreciate it.

Fuck provenance. Fuck intention. Fuck origins. Taste is personal, value is visceral; move away from that and you’re just lying to yourself.

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