Are We Allowed to Destroy Art?

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A new TV show fronted by Jimmy Carr will destroy artworks from artists ranging from Picasso to Hitler. Is this a good or a bad thing? Are we ever allowed to destroy art? We look at the arguments for and against destroying art for entertainment.

The news

Here is a short excerpt from a Guardian article, discussing a new TV show:

Backlash against C4 show that may destroy works by Hitler and Picasso

Channel 4 has come under fire over plans for a new show that will allow a studio audience to decide whether Jimmy Carr should destroy a painting by Adolf Hitler.

… The TV channel has bought artworks by a range of “problematic” artists including Hitler, Pablo Picasso, the convicted paedophile Rolf Harris and the sexual abuser Eric Gill.

A televised debate called Jimmy Carr Destroys Art, will question whether one can truly separate a work of art from its creator – before deciding which pieces to destroy with a variety of tools. …

But the idea has provoked criticism, with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust saying the show is “making Hitler a topic of light entertainment”. … Some likened the content of the show – which was filmed on Wednesday night – to Nazi book burnings. … And some have asked if it is ever right to destroy a historical artefact, no matter who the creator is.

So, who is right? Are we allowed to destroy Hitler’s art? Are we allowed to make entertainment out of it? Read on to find out!

Destroying stuff

The first, most obvious question, would be: What exactly are we allowed to destroy and why would anyone want to interfere with our choices?

In the course of a lecture, a teacher might draw stick figures onto a blackboard in order to illustrate something for her students. At the end of the class, the blackboard will be erased. Is this a crime against art? Obviously not.

One way of looking at this would be to consider the work’s market value, which should be (in theory) determined by supply and demand. Although that teacher’s drawing is in short supply (only she can draw stick figures in precisely this way), the demand for the work is non-existent. As a consequence, the work has no value and needs not be preserved, one might argue.

So, who is right? Are we allowed to destroy Hitler’s art? Are we allowed to make entertainment out of it? 

But this cannot be the full answer. For example, think of a parent who destroys a child’s picture in front of the child’s eyes. Although the picture likely has no market value at all, destroying it in front of its creator would seem cruel and morally wrong – not because of the destruction of market value, but because of the damage to the feelings of the artist.

On the other hand, a real-estate developer destroying a very valuable high-rise building that they own in order to build a theme park on the same spot might be seen as a stupid and ill-advised business decision. But we wouldn’t see it as a morally bad choice. What one does with one’s own things should …

Originally appeared on Daily Philosophy Read More

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