Art Erasure: 21st c. Iconoclasm

08/17/2017 09:50 am ET Updated Nov 15, 2017

The Arts are our bridges, between Man and Mankind.

The Arts chronicle Man and Mankind though history. As perspectives on historical facts are constantly in flux, being changed and added to as Time moves forward, society - and our individual and collective perspectives and memories - are also constantly being adjusted and re-skewed as “victors” take their ever-changing places at the proverbial top (to which we are wired to aspire; for better or worse, it is an inherent part of the survival of our species). They who currently hold power - groups or individuals - do have the ability to shift the lenses with which history and its participants are viewed.

The Arts, which have evolved alongside all societies over time, manifest themselves in the works of men, women and groups of people who craft their personal legacies in their production. Like children, our works hold the potential to serve as placeholders for us; they speak for us, they record our moments in time, place and society, they offer myriad ways with which to view us. The Arts are our windows and our mirrors.

The erasure that has reached a high point in Buzz - which is the combination of news + social media - addresses specifically the removal of Confederate-era based statues depicting notables. First off, they are the handiwork of one or a group of artists who labored to produce a work for which they were hired. To be able to make a “living” as an artist, in this case as sculptor, is a classic and commendable calling. Let us not destroy the artistic works of others because we do not like, agree with, or accept them. That is iconoclasm. I ask to go one step farther, for behind every work, there is a patron. Let us not erase or deny the history that collaboration represented, even if we do not like it, agree with it, or accept it. That is censorship.

Allow me to offer this: Perhaps it is the works that challenge us that are the most relevant, the most reflective (and let us not bend to vanity and ego at the cost of factuality), the ones we must most protect....

Then, let me ask: Who is qualified - truly, truly qualified - to pass judgement on random, unknown - and more dangerously amassed others? And given the limited knowledge/big picture lacking/mass dynamics-susceptibility of movements that in this age are born, fueled and carried out via social media and its non meritoriously derived collective voice, such movements, such passed judgements, are even more in need of serious scrutiny and pause. Limited and skewed perception and anger-based bonding to any cause have dangerous tendencies to marginalize, override and negate facts and constructive pro activism.

When iconoclasm, this erasure of works of Art, is linked to mass movements based on any current/contemporary ideology/perspective, it is a retroactive, censorship based banning, a whitewashing of our collective history that should be given serious pause: We must be able to look back upon ourselves - literally - so we can talk about it, learn about it, ultimately evolve from it. Erasure in history - Kristallnacht, the Iconoclastic Riots, the persecution of progressive and creative endeavor that was too new to be comfortable to the masses and/or those in power at the time (Galileo), the destruction of ancient Middle Eastern cities and temples, is Mankind’s “one step back.”

The way I see society evolve is, as the old quip goes, Two Steps Forward, One Step Back. Like a spiral, thanks to the physics of time and our place in it, it does crawl in a forward direction. But I write this now to add my voice as an American citizen: It should not include us now, at this time in our history, as having been supportive of/subjected to a new era of iconoclastic rioting.

Instead, commission artists to create more statues. Encircle, for instance, those Confederate generals with compass point-placed figures that catch us up visually with the rest of the story as it stands at this moment in time - remembering that in a few years and decades, this time will too be relegated to a past and be subject to scrutiny.... Let us organically and constructively add layers through the Arts to relegate older works to appropriate places without censorship or destruction. In that process, we find new impetus to support the Arts, which we need as much as ever.

Likewise, if this erasure is followed through to a logical conclusion, it must also include the banning/removal of literature, motion picture films and music. If we must, under the ever-thickening blanket of politically correct policing, vet artistic endeavor and its acceptance and by its 1) inoffensive pleasantness or 2) a virtue rubric on the part of the subject matter, artist/creator or the patron/funding source; well, guess what? Our museum walls will be empty, our town squares will be barren, our music channels will fall silent.

Let us not, at least in our Country, in fifty year’s time talk of the Iconoclastic Riots of 2017, and all that was lost forever because of them.

photo courtesy of the author.

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