In today's art world scholars and dealers seem, on the face of it, to occupy spheres that scarcely intersect. Many scholars avoid contact with dealers and auction house staff, known collectively as “the trade.” Some scholars feel ill at ease in what they perceive as the socially forbidding ambience of commercial old master galleries, preferring emulsion and denim to damask and pin stripes. Many feel far less exposed on a concrete campus than in Bond Street or the upper east side. Some give their unease a political explanation, seeing dealers and auction house specialists as commercial fetishists and the toadies of plutocrats. Be this as it may, the interests of every participant in the art world, whether abstruse theorist or rank salesman, are intimately intertwined. 2
The matter that concerns the trade most urgently is attribution, for a work that is supposed to be by a given artist, but is not, is worth infinitely less than a work that actually is by that artist. Who has the right to decide? Right has nothing to do with it, for this concerns the mechanisms of capitalism. Those who decide are those who can command confidence, irrespective of an often fugitive truth. Thus although there might well have been an oeuvre created firsthand by, for example, Rembrandt van Rijn, it remains in practice beyond our grasp, while each generation, by means of its own chosen scholarly means, defines for itself the Rembrandt oeuvre it deserves.
The structure of academic and museum scholarship, with its ostensibly disinterested stance, is the supposed guarantor of probity and the honest search for that unattainable but much-to-be-desired truth. Yet that structure of scholarship is closely allied to the dictates of the publishing industry. Together they ensure that competition among scholars for oracular status with regard to attributions to any given artist is minimal. Repetition or mere refinement of an existing catalogue raisonné will neither launch nor sustain a scholarly career. Neither would a publisher see any advantage in offering a second, third or fourth catalogue raisonné of the works of all but those artists perceived as truly great, complex, or controversial, unless it promises to render its predecessors obsolete. Therefore individual scholars who have demonstrated a particularly thorough engagement with the works of a single artist can easily become the