Contest answer

So here’s the deal. The King James Bible, The Wizard of Oz, and the

UN Secretariat building in New York are all magnificent, towering achievements

on an artistic level. Can you imagine a "Bible as Literature" class

based on the New English Bible? Can you think of a film which has resonated

in the general public’s imagination more strongly or for longer than The

Wizard of Oz? Can you think of a building in New York more perfect than

the UN Secretariat?

I’m serious about the UN Secretariat, by the way. When I first arrived in New

York, I was magnetically attracted to the gleaming Chrysler Building, of course.

And then after working downtown for a while I moved my affections over to the

Woolworth Building. But the UN is probably closer to perfect than either of

them – and beats, in my view, the Park Avenue icons of the Seagram Building

and Lever House.

No, that’s not the answer. But ask yourself why the Seagram Building and Lever

House are so hugely admired, while the UN Secretariat is often forgotten. It’s

obvious: the Seagram was built by Mies and Johnson, while Lever House was built

by Gordon Bunshaft. The UN Secretariat, by contrast, was built by, um…

So that’s what I was driving at. When we think great literature, we think Shakespeare,

Tolstoy, Nabokov – authors. When film buffs talk of the greats,

they talk of Fellini and Wilder and Godard. Hell, pick up this week’s New

Yorker, and turn to Anthony Lane’s cinema review. Check out the caption

on the illustration: "Tom Cruise as special agent Ethan Hunt in J.J.

Abrams’s movie." Yes, even M:i:III, the ur-blockbuster, the ultimate

star-driven film, is attributed to one J.J. Abrams – someone who couldn’t

even be called a film director before this movie came out, because he’d never

directed a film before.

One minor milestone in the intellectual development of a child is when they

start moving away from liking certain books and certain music, and start liking

certain authors and certain bands. And once you go there, it’s almost impossible

to go back: everyone seems determined to give almost everything an author. (Which

might be one of the reasons why conspiracy theories are so common, and opposition

to Darwinism is so widespread.)

I’ve written before about

how such attributions of authorship can be silly, but they’re also important,

because great works of art can actually get much less attention than they ought

to if there isn’t an author to glorify.

The three examples in my contest, then, are all works of art which don’t have

a single author who can take the credit and the glory – and for that reason,

I think, they’re often overlooked when they would never be if they were "by"

someone famous. This is not a question of things being designed by committee,

although Miss Representation was closer to the answer than anybody else. But

in fact the fact that we want to attribute authorship of these artworks to someone,

or something, even if it’s only a committee, is telling. An artist, on one popular

view, is one of the three necessary elements for a work of art to exist, the

other two being an art object and a viewer. I hold up three possible counterexamples.

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7 Responses to Contest answer

  1. 99 says:

    I guess, then, my handle has some justifiation? Or should we take this outside (checking to see if Stefan’s code skills are better than that Guilfoile fella)?

  2. 97 says:

    Nope. Or my HTML sucks.

  3. Felix says:

    fixed. by me, thankyouverymuch.

  4. Matthew says:

    Felix Salmon, nul points. You are no longer allowed to run contests. That’s not an answer to a question. It’s a thesis based on a proposition. If you’d asked, “what exceptionally vague and all-encompassing, 750-word theory might I come up with that loosely, but not exclusively, connects these three items,” you might have gotten away with it. But no. You didn’t. I declare Stefan the winner with ‘unicorns.’ I have no idea what he’s getting at, but at least it’s an answer.

    You are fired.

  5. Felix says:

    The answer is “they’re art sans artist”. That’s four words, not a vague and all-encompassing theory.

  6. Stefan says:

    There’s unicorns in all three of them.

    1. I’ve personally seen the unicorns on the tapestry hanging in the UN Secretariat building.

    2. An authority no less than Kottke there are unicorns in the King james Bible.

    3. The movie version but not the book version has unicorns grazing in the background of one of the scenes.

    That’s clearly a much better answer than the one intended.

  7. Charles says:

    Dwarves, too. In the book, munchkins are described as “not as big as the grown folk she had always been used to; but neither were they very small. In fact, they seemed about as tall as Dorothy.” Not so in the movie, where they are considerably shorter. Nebuchadnezzar was a dwarf, apparently. And “UN building dwarf” gets 775k hits from Google, one of which must refer to an actual dwarf in the UN, surely?

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