Authenticating and Attributing Art:

What you Need to Know

Art is for sale everywhere, much of it accompanied by various forms of documentation, certificates of authenticity (aka COAs), provenance, receipts, writing on the art itself, and other kinds of statements about who the artist is. But you know something? None of these documents, certificates or statements are worth a thing unless they're authored by or originate directly from recognized accepted qualified authorities on the artists in question (including the artists themselves), or can be corroborated in other ways.

Problems are particularly pervasive with "attributed" art. All kinds of unqualified individuals attribute various works of 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 acceptable attributions are those made by known recognized authorities on the artists to whom those works are being attributed. Technically speaking, "attributed" means that in the best opinion of a qualified expert or 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 expert or authority. And to repeat again, attributions made by unqualified individuals who are not experts on the artists in question are meaningless.

FYI, never confuse an attribution with an authentication. An attribution by a qualified expert or authority does not mean the art is by the artist, only that in his or her opinion it's likely to be by that artist. In order for an attributed work of art to become accepted as a genuine work of art, authenticity must be indisputably proven with concrete facts and evidence. In terms of price or value in the marketplace, an attributed work of art is typically priced substantially lower than an authentic work of art, how much lower depending on the strength of the attribution and who made it.

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 experience and resume to prove it. Qualified authorities are people who have extensively studied the artists in question, published scholarly 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 or articles or exhibition catalogues or essays about them, and so on. Qualified authorities may also be the artists themselves, relatives or spouses of artists, employees of artists, direct descendants of artists, heirs of artists, or people who have legal, formal, or estate-granted entitlements or permission to pass judgment on works of art by certain artists. The most important part? Qualified authorities are 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:

* Someone who thinks a work of art is by a certain artist because it looks similar to other art by that artist.

* Someone who thinks a work of art is by a certain artist because they see illustrations in books or articles or online that look like that art.

* Someone with no art world qualifications or credentials who thinks their art is by a certain artist because they've done their own independent research and put together a long detailed proof (according to them) of why they think so.

* Someone who attributes a work of art to an artist, but who has no concrete proof of that attribution and is not a recognized authority on that artist.

* Someone who assumes that just because a work of art is signed by a certain artist, it's automatically by that artist.

* Someone who says "that's what the previous owner told me," but who has no contact information for that owner, written statements, or other direct forms of proof.

* Someone who says their art is by a certain artist because a really rich collector used to own it.

* Anyone who is not recognized by their peers as an authority on an artist.

* Certificates of authenticity or similar forms of documentation from gallery owners, dealers, professors, appraisers 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 if it were 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.)

* Someone who says a work of art is by a certain artist but cannot produce tangible proof that this is so.

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


(video by Laturbo Avedon)

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