Saturday, 2 April 2016

Tricky Attributions

Pic of cartoon detective with magnifying glass

Friday was frustrating. A sudden unexplained spike in the analytics for an old blog revealed a copy pirate. Research lead to further discoveries in the murky waters of SEO and Google Analytics.

My blogging efforts were being redirected to another site. Grr!

The site even claimed to be “honest”. Double grr!

It was by no means certain that Google would give my site precedence. Triple grr!

In a black mood, I was glad to get out for the evening. I headed for some Italian culture at the Royal Academy of Arts. Little did I realise that that the tricky theme of attribution was to continue…

Venetian Artists
The Royal Academy of Arts is currently showing the works of early 16th century Venetian artists. The exhibition is entitled “In the Age of Giorgione”. Our expert guide explained that all the paintings in the collection had been attributed to Giorgione at some time.

Art detective work lead to reflections on attributing and crediting translators and copywriters for their online work. Let me explain…

Guided Tour
Our guide explained that pretty much everything we know about Giorgione could be written on the back of a postage stamp. We know that he was born in Castelfranco Veneto. We don’t know the exact date, although we believe somewhere around 1478. We know that he lived and worked in Venice. He died in his early thirties, probably of the plague. 

The collection brings together paintings from a 10-year period in Venetian art. There was a whole new generation of artists. If we cannot be sure exactly which paintings are Giorgione’s, we do know that he had a new approach that influenced the others.

New Approach
Giorgione introduced a new focus on the sitter’s hands. He painted symbolic objects to reflect the sitter’s personality. There was an attempt to depict the sitter’s state of mind and introduce a narrative element. His paintings do not show underdrawings. Instead he painted directly onto the canvas while watching the sitter. As a result, his portraits give us the feeling of capturing a real individual. They do not stare absently into the distance. Our eyes meet.

False Attributions
Our guide drew our attention to the addition of landscapes into drawings. He stressed how some figures depicted are set within the landscape, rather than it merely being a backdrop. In the past, the presence of a landscape meant that paintings were attributed to Giorgione. In the 1900s a hundred paintings were attributed to him, now just 40.

Clarity is difficult. A list of 15 works was drawn up 15 years after his death. Only 3 descriptions are recognisable. We know some paintings were lost or are in too poor a condition to act as good verification. We know he shared a studio. We are told that he fell out with Titian. Unfortunately, the source is considered suspect and only offers a one-sided viewpoint.

Two of the gallery paintings demonstrated the difficulties of attribution very well. The altarpiece of the Virgin and Child with Saint Peter and Saint Mark and a Donor showed three different styles. The most engaging characters are Saint Peter and Saint Mark looking at each other. The donor in the foreground looks wooden by contrast and the way his hands touch the baby’s foot looks awkward. The Madonna and child lack the finesse of the two saints. Even worse is the shadow of a figure that is not even in the painting. This is a panel attributed to Bellini. It is part of a missing triptych and evidently the work of more than one artist of varying talent.

Ah, but it gets worse… Il Tramonto turns out to be a hotchpotch of paintings. A nightmare restoration.

Judge for yourself
At the end of his talk, our guide invited us to look again at all the paintings and ignore the attributions in the labels alongside. Compare the paintings. Is it possible for one artist to change his style so much in just 5 years?

Translation Memory
I found the guided tour intriguing. As I came away, I couldn’t help thinking about all the discussions in the translation world over who owns a translation memory. When a translation is divided up for the sake of speed, it often ends up like Bellini’s Virgin and the Child. Good in parts, but even the good parts are spoilt by the failure to maintain a consistent style. Some translations can end up like Il Tramonto – a case of too many cooks spoilt the broth.

Creative Influence
Creativity is generally a singular rather than a collective activity. A consensus approach can kill creativity. However, the creativity of one artist, translator or writer can inspire the creativity of another. While Giorgione died young, Titian was influenced by him and went on to develop some of his ideas.

Digital Attribution
Returning to the modern digital world, I love how one blog can influence a whole series of others. I hope that genuine authors will get the credit for their ideas and work, rather than the “pirates”.

At the AsLing 2015 Conference, Jaap van der Meer of TAUS mentioned that Oracle are working on a system that could identify the effectiveness of individual phrases. Now, it strikes me that this might identify exactly who is responsible for the copy with the most effective sales conversions. Such attributions could lead to fairer remuneration or a “bonus” for the best in the profession. The best work will be known, attributable and visible.

Karen Andrews runs
Anglicity Ltd. She is an 
entrepreneurial French
to English translator,
transcreator, copywriter,
and digital marketer.

For further information see
Anglicity's website