Monday 22 April 2019

'Met dank aan de nalatenschap van de kunstenaar'

In the current climate of Dutch culture, there is an overwhelming amount of English language that pops up in daily activities. This has affected the ability of many people to correctly translate common English terms into the appropriate Dutch equivalent.

While this is common in most aspects of Dutch society, one has only to browse through a newspaper to find at least a few occurrences, two terms in particular are often seen in texts on art.
These two terms are 'estate' and 'courtesy of'.

'Estate' is commonly used in a longer phrase in the instance of a gallery representing a deceased artist. The gallery does not claim to represent the artist, but instead says it represents 'the estate of the artist'. It should be noted that the word estate in English has many possible meanings and 'estate' in this context is used in the same way it is inside a legal context. As 'estate' in this meaning encompasses all possessions of a person, it is well suited to distinguish between the representation of a person and the things he has left behind.
With this knowledge, it becomes clear how a possible Dutch translation is a problem. In a legal context, the word 'estate' is translated in Dutch as 'vermogen'. In common spoken language, however, the word 'vermogen' has connotations that lie more along the line of 'assets' or 'wealth'. As no gallery would want to be seen to merely represent the wealth of an artist, the English word 'estate' is often shoehorned into Dutch texts that require its mention.
Yet given the specific context it is used in, this introduction of a foreign word is not necessary. The Dutch word 'nalatenschap', 'that which is left behind' in a most literal translation, covers the scope of the word estate most elequently. While 'nalatenschap' is by no means a straightforward translation of 'estate', the latter being used for persons both alive and dead, the exclusive use of the word 'estate' to refer to the belongings of a deceased person inside an art context, makes 'nalatenschap' a perfect substitute. In fact, the German equivalent 'Nachlass' is sometimes used in English academic texts for the literary estate of an author.

Something similar is at play with the phrase 'courtesy of', usually indicating the gracious loan of some kind of artwork for an exhibition. The work that is presented is then 'courtesy of collector x or gallery y'. I've seen phrase translated embarrassingly in a number of ways, including the atrocious 'met de courtesy van de kunstenaar'. I certainly understand the difficultly, as 'courtesy of' is shorthand for 'with the courtesy of' and there is something abstract in that way of speaking that doesn't allow itself to be translated in a direct manner, while at the same time retaining the noble connotations of the word itself. Yet even if one somehow were to translate this as directly as possible, there is still a direct Dutch equivalent for the word 'courtesy', which is 'hoofsheid' or the slightly more contemporary 'hoffelijkheid'. That both those terms would sound somewhat pompous in the context of daily Dutch conversation apparently hasn't stopped the author of the previously mentioned phrase to increase the stupidity by introducing the English version of the same word.
Saying 'courtesy of' instead of 'thanks to' has become a custom inside art and while I'm well aware of the importance of unwritten rules of etiquette in art, 'met dank aan' is and always will be a perfectly suited phrase whenever it is needed in a Dutch translation.

So there you have it. If you ever need to write a Dutch press release for a deceased artist, please remember to write 'met dank aan de nalatenschap van de kunstenaar'.