I’ve read a couple of articles recently that made me feel a little uncomfortable but, perhaps, not “normal uncomfortable”.
There have been many times when, for example, societies have burned books. Each time this is done, there’s an outcry. And the outcry is right, after all. i mean, literature is literature and it’s an art. There was also the recent “haul” of Nazi-looted art from some reclusive guy. Paintings that hadn’t been seen (or, in some cases, unknown) were “recovered” and may, in time, go back to their rightful owners.
But, that latest report is about who owns the art and not about destroying it.
Some years ago, however, the West was shocked to learn that the Taliban were destroying ancient sites – ancient works of art. So, one would think, the West is more enlightened. In the West we would not destroy art just because we didn’t agree with it any more.
It would seem true if you read the article about the fake Madonna and Child that turned out not to be fake.
What an amazing piece of art! Of course it shouldn’t be destroyed.
Should it? But there is a problem with this piece. It is in ivory. That is to say, the tusks from elephants. These days, ivory is (rightly) an “unacceptable material”. So much so that, recently, a lot of it was destroyed. So, what to do with this piece? In theory, it should be destroyed, surely? But it is a valuable piece of historic art and, apparently, beautiful. In the comments section of the first article, there are some suggestions that it should be destroyed. But is that not the same as the burning of books or the destroying of ancient places – just because society, at that moment, think they are wrong in some way? At the time this Madonna was carved, society did not see that it was wrong to use ivory.
It’s not an easy question to answer. And I’m not giving an answer here since there is no correct answer to this paradox.
And then I remembered reading this piece on Saturday where there was some disgust and cries of racism and calls for the offending piece to be covered up. Again, this is art. It may not be to our “tastes” now but does that mean it should be done away with? If it’s in the setting of a primary school, does that make it worse? Or are we projecting our adult consciouses onto children who will see (probably) nothing in the picture?
I collected the Robertson’s Golliwogs when I was a kid. And I’m sorry but, for me, they weren’t a depiction of “black people” but, rather, dolls (or badges or figurines). Cabbage Patch Dolls weren’t real either. Nor were Barbie or Ken even if Barbie and Ken had some resemblance to real people. And whereas I agree that we should not, in general, have golliwogs available now, to cover up a piece of art is a different thing.
At the end of this, do we have the right to determine what art should be seen? Do we have the right to destroy art from a previous society just because it offends our existing morals? Or, if we have that right, does it make us mere Western-Taliban or Nazi-like? Who do we think we are that we can permit this to happen?
It disturbs me that we think we can have the right while, at the same time, condemning other societies for doing the “same thing”. It’s not so simple – not so black and white.