Monday, May 9, 2011

Authenticity v. The Thinker

‘The Thinker’ by Auguste Rodin was cast 21 times, and can be found scattered across the globe. Though there is a massive influx of people who insist on viewing the version showcased in the Musée Rodin, here in Paris. The sculpture, because of its physical attributes, gives the air of great debate, pain, and tribulation. One can feel the weight of the human condition, and man’s contemplation. Originally ‘The Thinker’ was part of a door that Rodin made for a commission for Les Arts Décoratifs. The Thinker was originally supposed to be Dante reflecting on his great poem, which the door depicted. When the sculpture was ‘blown up’ (Rodin often made large casts of smaller works) he decided the work stood alone, and the commission for Les Arts Décoratifs had fallen through, so he began casting ‘Thinkers’ and sending them around the world. The first cast is speculated to have been shipped to the U.S., so the version sitting at Musée Rodin, is likely not even the original. What this indicates is that authenticity is measured by much more than being the first of something. ‘The Thinker’ in Paris sits in the middle of the history of Rodin’s work, and because the sculptures are all the same, the history must be important to people. People may ‘project’ themselves into the past, daydreaming about what it may have felt like when Rodin was creating his works, or walking around Paris. Each sculpture is authentic in its own right, but the version sitting in Paris offers something other than just authenticity (materially speaking), it offers the closest experience to Rodin himself. ‘The Thinkers’ because of their material continuity will all carry the same message, the one intended by Rodin, which is one of contemplation and weighty deliberation. This message to me, defines the authenticity of the piece. If it loses the message, it loses its authenticity. Therefore the version of ‘The Thinker’ in Paris aligns itself not only with authenticity, but with history. I will keep history and authenticity separate, because ‘The Thinker’ in Paris, is not the original, and people often assume it is, thus it loses some form of continuity which keeps it for me, from being able to claim complete authenticity. The point in the end, is that authenticity is not as mechanically placeable as some may think. There can be different kinds of authenticity; authenticity that posits itself within a conceptual realm, requiring that the sentiment of the artist be upheld, and authenticity that posits itself within history/production, requiring that the process taken to achieve something is congruent with the one claimed, or that the artifact has in fact been through the process claimed.

Sara Martin

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