Tom likens Art to a cultural conversation, or rather someone has slipped that metaphor in along in the discussion. And that seems quite reasonable. Tom goes on to ask the question, "Is it reasonable in the course of any conversation to assume that every person engaged has the right not only to be heard, but in a sense to dominate the conversation as the only one whose word not only must be heard, but must be held sacrosanct and inviolable?" I paraphrase, but I hope I caught the essence of it.
Because Tom's definition of Art starts off much broader than my own, that question is reasonable as well. But where the difficulty comes in is that the cultural conversation takes not merely minutes, hours, days, months, years, or decades; it can, and often does take centuries and millennia.
While it is unreasonable to hold one person's view as more valuable or more sacrosanct than another's, when I argue for the preservation of the original, I am not saying that there cannot be other contributors, but rather, because the conversation takes so long, it is only right to hear the conversants in their own voices--as unmediated by another as is possible.
I make an inference here that Tom may be describing art as a kind of dialectic a kind of theme, introduced by the initial artist and modified through the years by responding artists in harmony or dissonance. And that may be a reasonable view of the process over all.
It is not the production of new works that bothers me. But let me try to explain just why I hold the view I do. St. Thomas Aquinas produced a large compendium of theology and philosphy, and I suppose natural science, and many other things related to theology and understanding God. This is the remarkable Summa Theologiae. Through time, many, many people have responded to this work, both positively or negatively. However, if I only read Farrell's study of the work, have I really come to terms with what St. Thomas Aquinas said? If I read only the two abridgments prepared by Peter Kreeft, do I have a clear idea of what Aquinas taught. Perhaps, perhaps not. But if I don't have the work of Aquinas to refer to, how can I know. If we allow the original to be so truncated to to be compiled in Kreeft's Summa of the Summa how will I understand the conversation?
Now the creation of the Summa of the Summa MIGHT be what Tom would refer to as a modification of the Summa Theologiae, if so, we have a different terminology for recognizing the validity of the same thing, because I would argue that Kreeft used his skills as writer and editor to produce from Aquinas not just a modification of Aquinas, but what is, in essence, an entirely new work. Yes, the bulk of it is Aquinas (there are notes and comments by Kreeft) but the process of editing picks highlights and reshapes the corpus of the work in such a way that it no longer fully represents the original. With this type of continuing conversation, I have no problem. Part of my ease comes from the fact that if I wished to know what Aquinas really said, I need only pick up one of several critical editions and learn Latin and read it. (Well, perhaps only wasn't a particularly good modifier in that sentence.) But the reality is that I have the original contribution to the conversation to play off of all the others and to hear the overtones and undertones.
But let's assume for a moment that an evil band of Kreeftian adherents stole all extant copies of the Summa and destroyed them. Then those initial remarks--the conversation starter is completely lost to me--and the conversation starter is indeed the seed of all that followed.
This is where we may part company, because I sincerely believe that it is good to know the full nature of that seed and even of the subsequent branches when we begin to engage in the conversation.
Now I've been queried about whether I would confer the same protections on Cheaper by the Dozen as I would on the Hagia Sophia. And the answer is an unqualified yes, with a codicil. I think it good to preserve as intact as possible all of the works of art so that future art has it as the "conversation starter." Ideally, that Art should be the authentic expression of the artist who produced it--complete and unchanged--but ready now to be modified by the future artist who encounters it. The codicil is, do I think Cheaper by the Dozen is as important as the Hagia Sophia. No! Rather I confer on Cheaper by the Dozen the protection I would like to offer the Hagia Sophia, not because CBD is necessarily worthy of that protection, but because if I have to choose between releasing all and keeping all, I choose keeping all. CBD is the side beneficiary of the protection I would like to see conferred on all great works of art.
A great work of art is a conversation starter--it is interesting to see the conversation develop, but I often lament things like Fragments from Paphias that give us enticing snippets of what could have been a most interesting whole. I regret the loss of many of the Pindaric Odes, though they may not have been worthy of a second thought. Who would have thought a minor comedy of an ancient Roman would have been worth recreating as a musical. And yet, it works.
So, if I am a protectionist, it is both for the good of Art as a whole, and I believe, the good of humanity. Some conversations are finished, have long since been but to rest and now are nothing more than footnotes in long abstruse studies of ancient Hungarian fragments or lesser Scholastics of the 14th century. There is a natural lull in the conversation. But the texts are there, ready for a resurgent interest that may uncover in these "lesser" scholastics insights that were far ahead of their time. If these works are redacted into nonexistence, this fertile field is destroyed, and part of the ability of Art is destroyed with it. I think of art as akin to John Donne's paean to everyman, "No man is an island, but all be part of the whole. If a clod be washes from Europe, Europe is the less." The loss of an original artwork is a great shame and a great loss. The centuries-long conversation that occurs around this artwork enriches Art, and if done properly, all of humanity.
That is why I suppose I impose my two categorical statements--(1)The willful misattribution of a work of art that has been changed to the original artist is sinful; and (2)The redaction of any original, no matter how seemingly trivial, out of existence is a great loss.
That said, I now need to come to terms with the very real part of me that says, "Some works don't deserve to exist at all. Would the loss of all of the pornography of the 20th century really be a bad thing." And perhaps it is in the distinction between Great Art, Good Art, Mediocre Art, and Bad Art, that I could find some answers to that question. (Bad art here meaning art that is both seriously, grievously mortally flawed, and art that while unflawed morally is so completely flawed technically as to be worthless.)
And perhaps my answer would be that Art in the first three categories deserves to have the original preserved, and that in the last, particularly if morally reprehensible should be consigned to the dust head of history. But then my statement wouldn't be categorical. And perhaps, with further reflection that's just fine.
All I really want is to be able to see what was originally there if I have cause to. As I once commented to TSO, reading a book by John Cornwell was a waste of time because I felt I had to go back and try to find all of the originals to see, what if anything, was true about it. But stop and consider. If we redacted everything out of existence and all that remained to say of Pius XII were the half-truths and less of Cornwell's book, then we would have done a great injustice--and I believe the nature of that injustice is related to Art itself.