On Authorship and Materiality: Inquiries Into Art’s Ability to Function Beyond the Structure of the “Artist” and the “Object”

Plan Author

  • Patrick Lancaster, 2014

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Philosophy of Art & Aesthetics
  • Course: Modernity & Postmodernity in Cultural History
  • Tutorial: What We “See” in Photographs
  • Tutorial: Authors and Intentions/Objects and Images

Project Description

A mixed-media gallery show exploring the relationship between the role of the artist, meaning, and the “object.”

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

    • Jonathan Gitelson, Keene State College


The writing portion of this Plan is focused on two essays that explore the ability of art to function beyond the structure of “artist” and “object.” The first draws primarily upon a close reading of Roland Barthes essay “The Death of the Author,” as it applies to Robert Frank and his influential book of photographs The Americans. Barthes’ essay provides a theoretical explanation for the difficulty in locating a concrete message behind Frank’s work, and offers insight into the larger questions regarding the artist’s control over the ultimate message behind a work. The second essay traces the historical and philosophical trajectory of the dialogue regarding the work of art’s dependency on the materiality of the object. Beginning with the work of Andre Malraux and Walter Benjamin, and concluding with the current state of the contemporary digital image, the essay focuses on how photographic reproduction has helped to shift our broader understanding of art and where we locate what we identify as meaning. It explores some of the ways in which the more contemporary use of the digital image has shown the potential to alter our understanding of art and thus, consequently reflect a wider shift in our overall state of consciousness.


“One would conclude from all of this that while many have traditionally viewed the work of art as being a product of the artist, and therefore they are commonly held as dominant over it, this may not entirely be the case. It is true that the artist creates the work in a literal sense, but if the inevitable goal is to take from a work of art (or text) a meaning, a message, or some sort of an experience and, subsequently, the study of art is to gain an understanding of where the sources of this meaning is derived from, one may then ask whether or not we should limit ourselves to a single perspective, a single thread in the fabric. Does the message lie in the work of art itself (as much of formalist thought would suggest), perhaps filled with these ‘tastes’ and ‘passions’ of its maker, or somewhere in the mess of relations that emanate from it? In other words, the language it speaks, which ultimately reaches beyond the work, and more importantly, the artist.”

“Developments within the arts, and the technologies that allow for these developments to emerge, are inextricably linked to changes in modes of perception and consciousness. Throughout the history of art we can see clearly how the two have gone hand in hand, and are consistently reflective of each other. Today, most would agree that we can locate our most fundamental understanding of art as having been built upon the integrity of the object itself, its materiality, its physical place in space, and the tangible experience of our being in its presence. Subsequently, it is the museum (or the gallery) that has taken the role as the primary arbiter of this experience, and has thus established and maintained a certain sense of control over its longstanding structure. This will continue to be, so long as our understanding of art remains bound to the material. However, some would argue that with changes in recent technologies, which have allowed for new means of artistic production to emerge, have come new changes in perception, that have perhaps led us to veer away from an emphasis upon the materiality of the object itself.”