Who Has the Right to Destroy Art?

Well, Jimmy Carr, apparently.  Jimmy Carr Destroys Art is a deliberately provocative piece of TV, which left me feeling profoundly depressed, not so much because of the artworks that were destroyed on the show, but because of the snapshot it revealed of an uncritical society that would allow this to happen.

The show’s premise is to pit controversial pieces of art against one another, and then invite a studio audience to vote for which one should be saved and which destroyed.  A sort of Innuendo Bingo with flame-throwers.

So, we had a painting by Rolf Harris lined up against some drawings by Eric Gill; a photograph of one of Sally Mann’s daughters versus a print of Marcus Harvey’s picture of Myra Hindley; a sculptured head by Rachel Dolezal pitted against a slavery cartoon from 1856; plus a watercolour by Adolf Hitler and a piece of pottery by Picasso.

Some pieces were advocated for destruction because of the nature of the artwork itself; others for the crimes of their creators.

In a Colosseum to Cancel Culture, four artworks were ultimately given the thumbs down on the spurious whims of individual prejudice.

Janet Street-Porter, unconsciously, demonstrated the utterly random subjectivity of the experiment when she declared her unease at the destruction of the Marcus Harvey print having only moments earlier been perfectly happy to bin the Sally Mann.

Iconoclasts are nothing new.  They have a long history dating back to Ancient Egypt; the original Vandals who sacked Rome; to the Reformation in Europe.  In more modern times, destroyers of art have included Hitler’s Nazis, Mao’s Communists, and the Islamic State’s terrorists.  I would suggest that any modern-day advocates for the destruction of art should look closely at the kind of company they are keeping.

There is a depressing arrogance of ignorance in the current social-media-fuelled cancel culture mentality; a supreme sense of rightness, blinkered to other viewpoints; a perverse belief that it is better to deny and obliterate the past, rather than to preserve and learn from it.

Art gallery curators up and down the nation must be shaking their heads in consternation at the muddle-headed vigilante impulse that this programme might potentially unleash.  No public artwork is safe if its right to existence is judged from a purely subjective standpoint regarding either aesthetics or morality.

I can imagine some point in the distant future, when a similar spectacle as this will once again be commissioned for the entertainment of the masses, and the TV programme Jimmy Carr Destroys Art will be one of the items which is being judged as being either worthy of destruction or salvation.  And, let’s hope those enlightened ancestors of ours decide to save it, so that future generations can watch and learn from our own generation’s narrow-minded mistakes.

© Stephanie Snifter

Jimmy Carr leaves Stephanie Snifter in a spin.

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