Issue of Situational Ownership

Objects that are made or produced have varying layers of value.  For an artist, he/she has invested their time, their creative abilities as they struggled and worked their way through the aesthetic process of fixing an idea into some visible form.  A patron, seeing the Art object, either enjoys what they are looking at or rejects it as there is no connection.  If the act of viewing is pleasurable enough, the viewer may engage the artist and acquire the Art object by “buying” it.  The patron has invested money to acquire or “own” the object of his/her pleasure.  Such is the issue of Situational Ownership.  Chris Chocola states:  “And I would argue the second greatest force in the universe is ownership.”

But what happens to this process of “ownership”, the “second greatest force in the universe” when political/military elements become engaged?  What happens to the notion of “ownership” when the Art object, an object  of desire, happens to be “controlled” by political and/or military circumstances?  Who then can lay claim to possessing authentic “ownership”?  With this  question in mind, who, in your opinion, authentically owns the Parthenon Marbles?

Portrait of Lord Elgin

Porch of the Maidens, Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Caryatid from the Porch of the Maidens, British Museum, London, England

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

17 Comments

17 thoughts on “Issue of Situational Ownership”

  1. This is a very challenging discussion to respond too. I guess I will start off with asking you what is the definition of ownership? According to Google, the definition of ownership is “the act, state, or right of possessing something.” But where does our “rights” to own something begin and end? I believe that whoever is paying for this piece of land has the rights to own it. Especially, if someone is paying for these art pieces to be refurbished. If these pieces were obtained illegally or under a conflict of interest, then I believe that it still should be owned by the original creators. The British conflict is completely unfair. I believe that the people in Athens own these pieces and they were wrongly taken.

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  2. As stated in another comment “this is a very challenging discussion to respond too”, I will state that all rights should be granted to the family of the artist, but by the artist gifting these pieces that is lost. If a patron invested their money to acquire the object, all rights of the object should be granted to the patron. Since these objects were held hostage by political and military forces, and ownership documents were never produced, both sides should be produced ownership rights over the objects, leaving the Greece 5 of 6 of the maidens and the 1 of 6 to the British.

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  3. The circumstances surrounding the acquiring of the Parthenon Marbles by Lord Elgin were certainly both political and military. It is believed that these sculptures were created either by the hand of the great Greek sculptor Phidias, or his workshop. They were specifically designed and produced for the Greek Temple to Athena in Athens. In this sense, these Marbles are most definitely “Greek.” It is tragic that the Greek people were subjected to so many different wars and empires throughout the centuries since the Marbles’ creation, which resulted in their extensive damage and decay. I agree with Chocola to an extent that ownership is a very powerful force, however, as a Brit, I believe that it’s time for Britain to give the Marbles back to their rightful owner – the Greeks. Lord Elgin’s people initially took the Marbles at a time when the Greeks were under the control of the Ottoman Empire and had no say over their ancient treasures. Lord Elgin initially planned to keep the marbles at his private estate before selling them to British Museum. This feels like “looting” to me and although this action may have helped to preserve the Marbles from further damage, it’s now time for them to return “home.”

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  4. It is always good question where the art pieces should be and why? If Elgin didn’t bring the marbles to Great Britain and they still were in Greece, the marbles might not still exist today. Even if they still existed in Greece, they could have been badly damaged. Great Britain has kept the marbles with beautiful condition for the last 200 years and they have the right of ownership of the marbles. Also, the British museum displace the marbles to visitors.

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  5. Morally, I do believe that the Parthenon Marbles belong to the city of Athens. It was a part of something that was (and still is) a great part of Athenian culture. Lord Elgin did manage to help preserve this part of Athenian history and the Greeks should pay homage to that. However, Greece is no longer in the condition it was when Lord Elgin purchased the marble statues. They are now an independent country and are much more capable of preserving their history. Also, there is the issue of the “state of mind” that Athens was in when the deal with Lord Elgin took place. At the time, the area that we associate with modern-day Greece was under Ottoman rule. Technically, the city of Athens was coerced by the Ottomans into giving away the marble sculptures. So, in a modern legal sense, the deal was not fair and just for the Athenians. If the country of Greece and the city of Athens are willing to pay to help preserve their history, then the Parthenon Marbles should be back at Athens.

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  6. The greatness of all things made by man have been known to be passed down generation to generation. In another context, even a home owner can claim their values for something that they have bought. Preserving materials such as art and selling to patrons almost becomes necessary to one’s livelihood under various circumstances. For the many who have evidently devalued a historic work of art may draw attention to the external values deliberately unattached to previous Greek traditions. In this example, we face a social issue that remains questionable to ascertain the rights of the Parthenon Marbles. Given that democracy was the source of governing in Greece, I believe in our period we have overlapped the true meaning of free will, freedom of rights, freedom to act on something that is out of our grasp to unanimously vote upon. This affair has been hotly debated for ongoing years, yet I think military and political reform may change that, one day hopefully the “art” will belong in the right place.

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  7. I got the chance the visit the Parthenon Marbles in May of this year and seeing them at the British Museum was interesting to say the least. Not only is someone able to view the Marbles, one can also see many different important pieces of human history all in one place.
    The British Museum is a universal museum but the Marbles are not the only pieces of artwork that are questioned in their possession. Although the Marbles were kept out of harm’s way, during specific times of turmoil in Greece, I think that now that Athens has the proper facilities to house and maintain the Marbles it is time they make their way back to where they originally came from. The original document that was said to have given Elgin the rights to take them away has been lost and some even say that it might be fake. The marbles were also taken during a time where the men in charge of them were morally compromised to make any decisions about them due to the fact that they were under the thumb of the ottoman empire.

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  8. Ownership is a very touchy subject when it comes to these Ancient Greek artifacts. Because of Greece’s prior political issues, they were unable to stop their pieces from being transferred to a different country. Usually, when we speak of ownership, it’s clear that whoever made or bought the item initially owns it; however here, technically these pieces were taken by force away from Greece. The statues and other engraved marble pieces now sit home in the British Museum since they were bought from Lord Elgin. Even though Elgin had legally taken the artifacts away and they were legally purchased, I believe Greece authentically owns anything to do with the Parthenon. The Parthenon is an exquisite ancient piece of architecture which heavily incorporates Grecian history. The Ancient Greeks had created those pieces to utmost perfection to be able to leave others in wonder. It is only that the modern Greeks have control over their ancestors’ artifacts. The marbles belong to Greece regardless of political standing. Using them in a political barter undermines the value of history each piece has. By keeping the marbles away from the rightful resting place, Great Britain is placing their power over the wonders of the art.

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  9. Whenever a piece of art is bought, while the person who puts out the money to purchase the piece becomes in their possession, the piece will never truly be theirs, unless they commissioned it themselves. The original person the part is made for is ultimately the owner of said piece. If the artist creates a piece for themselves, it will be their piece even after being sold multiple times. No matter what military possess a piece, the piece will always belong to whoever it was originally intended for. This is the case even for the Parthenon Marbles; even if the British claim that the marbles are theirs because they took the pieces, the people of Athens are the rightful owners because that is who the marbles were made for. Lord Elgin does deserve the credit of preserving the marbles, but him nor the British people are the intended recipients of the marbles, so even if they are kept in Britain for safekeeping, it should be always known that the people of Athens own the pieces.

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  10. For me this is a tricky situation to pass an opinion on for a few several reasons. The first being the legality of and details of ownership. I whole heartedly believe in someone’s rights to property regarding inanimate objects, if the circumstances by which they acquired were just and upright from the very beginning to the end of the procurement transaction. Yet it has been stated that the British bought the marble figures from a man who acquired them by somewhat questionable means. The second reason I struggle with the idea of the idea of the British having ownership, pertains to the conditions of war and the effects of wars. Wars are harsh, dangerous, and trying events. Under these conditions its understandable that people would think, and act in ways that they might not under normal circumstance. The duress that a country and its leader are under when actively engaged in violent disputes can cause them to be desperate for relief and make rash decisions to obtain it. Not to mention the victory or loss of a battle bring its own set of issues for a country that can affect everything form emotions, to socioeconomic issues for that group of people. If someone makes a decision under duress can we really say that it was a decision made with full conscientious consent? I don’t know that it can. However, even though some aspects of the arrangement by which the British came into possession of the marble can be argued, I don’t think that there is any dire offence if they continue to refuse Athens request to have the figures returned. My outlook on ownership is part of what shapes my opinions in this matter. I believe that just because someone may have a legal right to hold something in their possession does not necessarily mean that they fully and completely own it. I think that to own something fully you have to be in control of not just its physical form but also is spiritual form, or artistic essence. The story, history, passion, and meaning behind the marbles are all rooted in the Greek culture. The Greek people own the narrative of the beautiful works of art that reside in London. It was their spiritual beliefs, their logical and psychological views that inspired the concepts of these pieces. It was individuals native and loyal to Greece that physically generated the carvings. When thinking about who a piece of art belongs to, I like to consider it in terms of a family. When you are created you become part of a family. Your identity, purpose, and possibly even your initial self-value is given to you by that family. No matter where you go in the world you will always be connected to, and belong to that family. Yes, if you’re far away your family will miss you and long for your presence, but you are being apart physically doesn’t make you any less a part of that family. So, in a way Greece will always own the marbles, no matter what their physical location may be.

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  11. To be frank, whoever has the most money or something to offer/trade for the art will own it. It doesn’t matter what happened to the art, who made it, what place it stayed in the longest. Once you have placed your art in to a public place, it’s taken from you, or given it away, it is no longer yours. At the end of the day, if you don’t have something or equal or greater value in the owners eye to exchange it for, they will probably continue to possess.

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  12. The process of ownership when political and/or military elements become engaged can get very muddled. My opinion is largely biased by myself being very stubborn and believing that things should be kept where they originally belong. With regards to the Parthenon, I acknowledge that Lord Elgin did save it from total destruction. We also have to acknowledge the fact that its original home country has created an equally comfortable home for the marbles that were probably taken illegally. When my family moved to this country, we left our furniture and most of our belongings in our home in the Philippines. Some of our relatives took our things without our permission and distributed them to their friends. Some furniture pieces were left in the house when a huge flood happened and they were covered in mud. Upon my return for a visit three years later, I was not pained as much as I was seeing our muddy furniture than seeing the other ones in someone else’s house who took them without our permission. It seems as if it’s easier to let things go when they are destroyed by an uncontrollable force of nature like a flood rather than those objects being taken without the permission of the people who truly owned or cared for them. It was great that Lord Elgin cared for them for the time being but the time of political unrest has passed and Greece is ready to have them back.

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  13. in my thought process of ownership most pieces are sold by the artist to make a living thanks to that thing in society called capitalism. If an art work is sold by an artist or created for a specific individual I.E. commissioned talents, then it is owned by the person, place, or community in which bought it or contracted the work. in the case of the Parthenon it was commissioned by the town so id say if it was sold by the city/state then its owned by whoever bought it. if it was acquired by war or theft then the ownership should go back to the original owner

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  14. Although Great Britain possess the marbles physically, I do not believe that they have the right to “ownership” of them. The definition of “ownership” becomes rocky when we put worth to who has something in their possession versus who cultivated a piece or where it originated. Even though the British have kept the marbles beautiful and in great condition, it is the people of Athens— the people in which they were made for— that should have the right to enjoy them. With that being said, it is a hard balance when it comes to deciding whether we should remove pieces from their place of origin to a museum of some sort for preservation— or is it for our own enjoyment?

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  15. Having the rights to own something comes with great responsibility. When the notion of “ownership” of the Art object happens to be controlled by political and/or military circumstances then it becomes a greater responsibility. We cannot turn back time and undo what happened with the Parthenon Marbles. Although the Greek government would not agree, it is best to keep the marbles in the British Museum. In the midst of arguing which side has the “right” or ownership to claim the “authentic” marbles, people are forgetting what the priorities should be. Point is, stolen or not, the marbles were saved from further possible destruction and have been kept in the best condition for hundred of years now, in the British Museum, where it belongs, allowing for millions of visitors to view them.

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  16. Art is something that in may ways always changes in value, in art certain paintings and works are worth more in value because of who made it, then whether or not it is good. In this debate of the marbles I admit I do not know what to think, because both sides make good points. The British do make a good point the Lord Elgin may have helped save them from the Turks that were destroying them, and that the Turks offered them as show of good faith. This creates a moral debate, the British have treated them well and have protected them for decades, which Greece and many should be thankful. I can’t really say who at the moment owns the marbles, Greece at the moment is able to show and display them, but their economy has been a depression for a few years now and has no leverage at the moment to try and get them back. The United Kingdom is in the throws of leaving the European Union, I would want the marbles to be placed somewhere where they can be protected and cared for, whether it is in Greece or the United Kingdom.

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  17. Artists create artwork investing their own time in order to show patrons their idea in a visible form. If a patron likes certain work, they acquire the art by buying the product. But there are some artwork that people can’t just “buy” in order to acquire them. I believe if a person like a certain artwork, they should be allowed to buy them since the military and government don’t have 100% of ownership to the art piece that they are currently possessing. I don’t believe they can “control” the artwork but at the same time, if the artworks are kept safely in the museum, I don’t think the ownership is a matter anymore when everyone can see the work in the museum.

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