Destroying Art as Protest

Allan Harding MacKay is a Canadian “war artist” who is destroying his art to protest treatment of veterans and aboriginals.

The Casoria Contemporary Art Museum in Naples, Italy is burning art to protest a shortage of funds during times of austerity.

Deep Thought Thursday

How do you feel about destroying art as protest?
How does destroying art change its meaning?
Is destroying art an effective form of protest?

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21 thoughts on “Destroying Art as Protest”

  1. What’s art?
    Is the artist destroying their own work / is it being done with their consent?
    Is the action part of the conceptual nature of the work?
    Is the action art in its own right.
    What’s art?
    Is effectiveness determined by “value” of work being destroyed/artist?
    Questions, nothing but questions…

  2. The artist destroying his work is creating a new work in his protest. It’s a conscious choice, one that I can understand and even applaud. And from what I read the same thing is happening at the museum in Naples, with the director burning the works with the artists’ permission. There’s liable to be more of a response in Europe where a greater value is placed on cultural institutions, but ultimately I don’t think either act is going to generate a huge response. Maybe the coverage on the internet will provoke more dialog.

    1. Absolutely, Mary. The fact that the dialogue was started is a brave act. I, for one, am convinced that artists have an exceptional voice in their work for effecting political and social action.

  3. Victoria Pendragon

    I agree with Mary but couldn’t resist adding that the arts in the USA just don’t generate the same level of emotion that they do in Europe. Not that the people who love the arts aren’t passionate…but art just isn’t put forth as being of the same kind of intrinsic value as, say, football.
    The arts generate thinking – often original thinking – something that I feel is generally discouraged in the US. And I do hope that the internet will at least come alive with comment.

  4. It’s one way to get media attention to an issue, I suppose, in the same self-destructive, desperate way as self-immolation (though obviously not the same loss). But I think burning art only hurts the people who already care about it. Others will just shrug.

  5. annamaria windisch-hunt

    It appears he is playing into the oppositions hand. Destroy and nothing is left to remember. The only effective protest i have ever witnessed was the day All art galleries removed work from windows and covered them in black cloth in remembrance of all the artists who passed do to aids.

  6. William R Moore

    Sounds like “Cutting your nose off to spite your face”
    Surely their is a more positive way.
    Is it a Revolution by any means? Surely creative people can find a more positive way.
    Does this say something about the quality of the work burned? My work is not good enough to preserve? A book burning precedent. Are Rembrandt and Van Gogh paintings next. How can you value a museum when it does not value its collection?
    Just Saying.

  7. I agree with Julia and William. Seems like the only one being hurt is the artist himself. Unless he’s using this as an excuse to destroy sub standard paintings and get a little publicity out of the deal.
    If Old Masters paintings were being destroyed THAT would cause a reaction of horror, but if some unknown Joe Schoe artist burns his work, I doubt few people would care. And certainly not the government!
    No, I do not think that burning art is an effective form of protest. It changes the value of the art by totally devaluing it.

    1. Karen – this is not just any old “Joe Schoe” artist where Allan’s case is concerned. He’s been an official war artist. In any act of art…or war….it’s important to know the players, the context and intent.
      From the perspective of Canadian artists, I’d say this is a pretty big deal.

  8. Burning art in protest of austerity? It is sad that this is the only solution that the artists and galleries can come to and a sad indicment of the times in which we live. Sadly I cannot see how it would achieve anything and my view on Q2 is no meaning is changed at all by destroying the art and to Q3 I cannot see this as an effective form of protest.
    It becomes another news item today only to be replaced by yet another story tomorrow. Yesterday’s news becomes tomorrow’s fish and chips paper (as we say in England).
    At the end of it all perhaps we could ask the artists if they feel they achieved their aim.

  9. Michele Bruce-Carter

    The artists burning their work have a following. Naturally, they are people who are interested in what the artist, as an individual, has to say. Its a powerful way to protest if you are in or a part of the art world. IF you watch some of Harding War Videos you may decide to take a match to you own work for the cause. I DO!

  10. Michele Bruce-Carter

    Its a passionate way to show your disgust with the atrocities of the world today. Art is a part of the individual. You know how it is when you finish a piece of feel as if it is a part of your person, soul or being. Its kind of like a Hunger Strike for artist. I love it. =D

  11. Michele Bruce-Carter

    …and I guess by default the galleries and museums will benefit from a just cause. But not without the passion and personal interests of the artists. (gee it took me long enough to get that out in its entirety)

  12. Artists’ work being accepted into a museum collection conveys wide-ranging assurances, including artistic legacy, legitimacy on overt through subtle levels. Unforeseen disasters, cultural wants and personal interest may strike any time, but how can the studied skill, research, concept and intended substance of artists’ work be consciously converted to dirty air for the sake of finance and political complaint unless this is the artists’ chosen trajectory for their bequeathed visions? Our assumptions / illusions of cultural investiture are revealed as spent cigarettes.
    Did the museum first make solemn efforts to balance their budget by obtaining money for these pieces they re-configured to brief pixel displays? Would no galleries accept them for sale or commission? Did the museum discuss new contracts toward this attempt with the artists having work in the collection with “more enduring contractual protection” (and/or with un-burnable art) to attempt the same? Were there no private collectors available, if even on a temporary care-taking basis, (which, I suggest, has an inherent name-building value to the collector)?
    I’m an American. Our government had astute warnings and delayed until the short time that remained birthed hasty decisions that affected billions of people. Humans have built civilizations upon creative expression. Chance events and individual intents have destroyed civilizations. Some shrug, “a few pieces of art”, but where are we now?

  13. I would like to react and make pragmatic and intelligent commentaries but I am furious about this amateur stupid behavior by artists and museum alike!
    All what they are achieving is belittling the moral, cultural, artistic and monetary value of the art itself.
    Art can be used in protest by CREATING art, like Picasso’s Gernica, which is one of the stronger anti war statements. Not burning art!!!!!!!!!
    This is completely out of control.

  14. I’m an artist. That means I create stuff. Create.
    I recognize there is a beginning and an end, and sometimes the end is the beginning of something new. If I live in a democratic society, then I am able to create. If I do not, I am stifled. HELLO PEOPLE!!!……. as far as I’m concerned, art is NOT a commodity. I can make it…and I can break it. In the breaking, I make it.
    Again, context is the all-important issue at hand. When you have a government elected, not by the majority of people…in what is supposed to be a democracy…and that very same democracy, led by the party that snuck in, lied, cheated, stood in contempt of parliament, trod over your rights, stifled the media, cut arts funding and social programs, carried on with an arrogance only matched by the most evil of past historical dictators, increased the taxes on the little guy while giving tax cuts to the big guy, chose big oil over the environment….really….what have you got? Time to make a point. Guernica never stopped the Spanish Civil War.
    Everything has a natural life cycle.
    Burn, baby, burn…I say.

  15. Just plain sad in every way. But it turns static art briefly into a theater piece. And it is a desperate act like immolation. Horrible and sad. How awful that artists should feel pushed to do this.

  16. I think the intent, the protest, is good. I’m not in favor of the execution however. I think protests of this nature have lost most of their bite. It’s just not shocking anymore for this kind of behavior, especially coming from the art world.
    I like the idea of galleries/museums pulling the art and replacing it with black curtains that Annamaria mentioned above. I think that kind of protest, done on a large scale, is what grabs attention in todays world.
    Just think, what would happen if you could get a large group of artists to pull their work, commercial artists to stop work for a period of time, in an effort to protest and bring attention to a cause? How many businesses would take note when they couldn’t get their commercial artwork accomplished? No changes to their website? How would this hit a city in the pocket book (which is when people really do sit up an take notice).
    I know that kind of scenario is far fetched, but I think most people just roll their eyes at the idea of an artist burning his or her work. “Artist X burned a painting? Eh, did you hear about the shark in formaldhyde? Eh, did you hear about the depiction of Christ made out of elephant dung? Eh, did you see the photo of the British artist with money stashed between her legs… I wonder how the Yankees are doing…”

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