The question, “Who made an artwork?” affects the way we judge that artwork. I argue that the question “How did the artist make it?” is of equal relevance. My point is that the focus on “Who was the artist?” is an example of a more general question: “How was the artwork made?”

“Who made it?”

Imagine it were proved that the Mona Lisa on display in the Louvre is a copy of da Vinci’s original. This would be major news. It would not change the work on display, but it would change the way we view it. The value of the picture would be greatly reduced (especially if the original came to light).

This imaginary example demonstrates the obvious, i.e., who made a particular artwork is a critical factor in how we look at the artwork and judge its value. Perhaps this should not be the way art is judged. But in the real world, the importance of authorship is an inescapable reality.

“How was it made?”

Imagine, in another example, that a set of genuine da Vinci drawings were found, studies for the Mona Lisa. Imagine these drawings demonstrated that the Mona Lisa is an imaginary portrait, with the face based on drawings of a fifteen year old boy. This would be major news. From a technical standpoint, it would not be shocking; indeed, it would fit with normal Florentine practice of using male models for female figures. But from an aesthetic standpoint, we would never look at the Mona Lisa the same way. Our appreciation of this painting might not be diminished, but it would inevitably be altered.

We do not so often focus on the question “How was an artwork made?” Part of the reason may be that it is difficult to find answers. But as the above example shows, the answer to this question could be no less important than for the question “Who made it?” The reason, I think, is that the questions are related. “Who made it?” is simply a specific version of “How was it made?”