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  • Authenticating and Attributing Art:
    What you Need to Know

    Art is for sale everywhere, much of it accompanied by various forms of documentation, certification, provenance, authentication, attribution, and all kinds of other claims that it's by this artist or that. But you know something? None of these claims, papers, certificates of authenticity or tall tales are worth a thing unless they're corroborated, authored or stated to be by, or otherwise directly associated with or traceable to recognized accepted qualified authorities on the artists in question, including the artists themselves.

    Problems are particularly pervasive with "attributed" art. All kinds of unqualified individuals attribute art to all kinds of artists all the time, and 100% of those attributions are worthless. Do you know why? Because in the art world, the only legitimate attributions are those made by known recognized authorities on the artists whose names and works are being attributed. Technically speaking, "attributed" means that in the best opinion of a qualified authority on a particular artist, a particular work of art is likely by the hand of that artist. To repeat, the key words here are qualified authority. And to repeat again, attributions made by unqualified individuals are meaningless. (FYI, do not confuse an attribution with an authentication. An attribution does not mean the art is by the artist, only that it's likely to be by that artist.)

    Who is a qualified authority, you ask? Someone who knows what he or she is talking about and-- here's the important part-- has the rap sheet to prove it. Qualified authorities are people who have extensively studied the artists in question, published papers about them, curated museum or major gallery shows about them, teach courses about them, buy or sell at least dozens or preferably hundreds of works of art by them, write books, magazine articles, or exhibition catalogue essays about them, and so on. Qualified authorities may also be the artists themselves, relatives of artists, employees of artists, direct descendants of artists, heirs of artists, or people who have legal, formal, or estate-granted entitlements or sanctions to pass judgment on works of art by certain artists. The most important part? Qualified authorities are those recognized throughout the art community as being the go-to individuals when it comes to questions about the particular art or artists they have expertise in.

    The following individuals are NOT QUALIFIED to authenticate, certify, attribute, or otherwise make critical or scholarly judgments or claims about artists or art:

    ► People who think their art is by certain artists because it looks like it's by those artists.

    ► People who think their art is by certain artists because they see illustrations that look like their art in art books.

    ► Unqualified individuals who think their art is by certain artists because they've done their own independent research and put together long detailed logical explanations (according to them) of why they think so, but who are not recognized authorities on those artists.

    ► People who in any way, shape, or form attribute their art to artists, but who have no concrete proof of attribution and who are not recognized authorities on those artists.

    ► People who assume that just because the art is signed by a certain artist, it's automatically by that artist.

    ► People who say "that's what the previous owner told me," but who have no other forms of proof.

    ► People who say their art is by certain artists because really rich collectors used to own it.

    ► People who are not recognized by their peers as authorities.

    ► People who show you purported certificates of authenticity or similar forms of documentation authored by galleries, dealers, professors, car mechanics, plumbers, appraisers, accountants, clergy or any other individuals WHO ARE NOT recognized authorities on the artists those certificates or documents pertain to.

    ► Art appraisers WHO ARE NOT recognized authorities on the artists in question, but who appraise the art as being by those artists anyway. (ART APPRAISERS APPRAISE; THEY DO NOT AUTHENTICATE, CERTIFY OR MAKE ATTRIBUTIONS unless specifically qualified to do so. Appraisal and authentication are two entirely different entities. Never confuse the two.)

    ► People who cannot produce tangible first-party proof that their art is by certain artists.

    As always, never buy art you're not familiar with from people you don't know. Be extremely careful under all circumstances, make sure you have concrete proof of that everything you're being told is true beyond a shadow of a doubt BEFORE you buy the art, and if you have any questions whatsoever, don't buy until you get a qualified second opinion.

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