The good and the bad of posthumous art

In an age where almost anything can be recreated virtually, posthumous art has become more and more common. David Bowie released a 6-track EP on Jan. 8 — the day he would have turned 73 — even though he died four years ago. James Dean, an actor who died in 1955, is set to star in a film called “Finding Jack” with the help of computer-generated imagery (CGI). Famous minimalist artist Dan Flavin had many of his unfinished works made public a couple of years after his death. 


While many fans find comfort in art that is pushed out even after the artist is gone, it brings up a kind of uncomfortable confrontation with the finite fact of life. What is the public to make of these posthumous works of art?


With the help of producers, and often permission from the artist’s next-of-kin, artists can continue to produce art. While physical works of art, such as paintings or sculptures, are not typically  produced posthumously, many musicians have previously unreleased vocal tracks that are able to be modified and then released. Actors who have passed are able to be recreated digitally with the help of CGI, such as James Dean or Carrie Fisher. 


The ethics of using someone’s likeness often comes into question as this is new territory for the art business. However, using someone’s likeness, unreleased vocals or unpublished artwork brings on another question. Would the artist even like the result? So much of being an artist is about telling a personal story and leaving a legacy — and of course a good producer would try their best to make something the artist would be proud of — but we can truly never know. In the end, only the artist can decide if they’re proud of their work. Another thing to take into consideration with posthumous art is upcoming artists. There are artists, especially actors, who need those available jobs for income. The dead have no need for income.


Posthumous art is becoming an increasingly common and powerful way to carry on an artist’s name. It’s an honorary tribute to the deceased and a way for fans to continue finding comfort in their work. Publishing unreleased art, vocals or video footage is a way to feel closer to the artists after they’ve gone. Most notably, Mac Miller’s label released “Circles” two years after he passed. Many feel that this album brought a more personal view of Miller’s life and feelings. Publishing art after an artist has died continues their legacy and celebrates their talent, creativity and life.


What is the public to think of posthumous art, then? Well, it all depends on the individual and what the artist would’ve wanted. Posthumous art can be a beautiful tribute to an artist whose life was cut too short and has passed on, but it is also important to give support to upcoming artists as well.

Photo: Birminham Musuem

Leave a Reply