Imagining the Law: Art

Law and the Humanities: An Introduction (Austin Sarat et al. eds., Cambridge U. Press 2010)

23 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2020 Last revised: 9 Sep 2020

See all articles by Christine Haight Farley

Christine Haight Farley

American University - Washington College of Law

Date Written: 2010


Justice Holmes famously admonished that “[i]t would be a dangerous undertaking for persons trained only to the law to constitute themselves final judges of the worth of pictorial illustrations.” And yet, the law is continuously engaged in determining various legal issues raised by art and artists. Holmes was not the last to wonder how, if at all, the legal profession is well-suited to define what sometimes artists themselves cannot. This chapter surveys the scholarly contributions at the intersection between art and law. Law’s relationship to art – to its creation, production, restriction, and dissemination – is as multiform and complex as the category of art itself. In light of art’s fetishistic potential and symbolic capacity, any legal dispute about art usually evokes a plea for special rules or approaches that makes visible the ubiquitous conviction that art occupies a different and unique space in our society. Acknowledging that there is no discrete body of law that governs art (and, consequently, that as a field of study art law appears haphazard and incoherent), this chapter surveys the legal issues raised by art, artists, and the art world. It organizes the central themes that have occupied scholars over the last 30 years: the law as art, the law of art, laws of creativity, and how law and art might be at odds. This chapter points the way toward a study of law in its relationship to creative, cultural practices, particularly to the notion of aesthetic judgment in the domains of art and law and emphasizes the mutual influences that art and law have had on each other.

Keywords: art law, intellectual property, cultural property, law and humanities, law and aesthetics

Suggested Citation

Farley, Christine Haight, Imagining the Law: Art (2010). Law and the Humanities: An Introduction (Austin Sarat et al. eds., Cambridge U. Press 2010), Available at SSRN:

Christine Haight Farley (Contact Author)

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States
202-274-4171 (Phone)
202-274-0830 (Fax)


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