Published by The Courtauld Institute of Art, 2010
Challenging Walter Benjamin’s premise of aural alienation in the age of mechanical reproduction, this dissertation explores the sustainability of the aura in works of art that dissolve the romantic notion of the artist’s touch. In doing so, it will examine the decline of eighteenth and nineteenth-century cast courts, and the unfeasibility of André Malraux’s proposed Museum Without Walls, as these display methodologies tried to do without the original work of art. Focusing on the specific cult of the artist, this research paper will further scrutinize the artistic production of Old Master studios, as well as modern and contemporary artist factories, both of which employed workshop assistants, fostering a disconnection between the artist and his craft. Suggesting that aura and facture are not necessarily related, this dissertation will argue that a workshop-crafted artwork’s aural quality is upheld through the cult of the celebrity artist.
The analysis will largely be based on aesthetic theory, as well as the scholarly knowledge brought forth by archival material, catalogues, annual reports and interviews with artists, museum professionals and auctioneers. While this thesis largely focuses on the specific case studies at hand, the project develops a model for thinking about the cult of the maker and the cult of the artist within the museological sphere.