The Art of Destruction


In his new piece for the New English Review, Dalrymple muses on some news from Naples: an artist and museum owner named Antonio Manfredi recently burned twenty works of art, with the agreement of the other artists, in protest for the lack of public support for their work.


The question naturally arises as to how it has come about that so rich an artistic tradition as the European should have reached the point when contemporary works, presumably chosen for their special excellence by comparison with others, can be burnt without the slightest regret on anyone’s part, without anyone feeling that the world has thereby been deprived of anything of aesthetic, intellectual or spiritual value. Even the artists who made these works of art seem to feel that the world would not be not impoverished in any way by the incineration of their handiwork. This being the case, neither Manfredi nor the artists have any reason to complain of the philistinism of the times, unless they are prepared to turn the complaint equally upon themselves, which is doubtful.

Dalrymple provides several possible answers, chief among them being:


[A]esthetics simply do not matter to most Europeans, at least not the aesthetics of the public space. They no longer notice the ugliness by which they are surrounded, at least not consciously … We live in an age of the convenience of the moment, including or especially financial, when no sacrifice for the sake of aesthetics is deemed to be worth making. We do not build sub specie aeternitatis, because we do not believe in eternity of any kind, spiritual, artistic or cultural.

Read the whole piece here

10 thoughts on “The Art of Destruction

  1. Louise

    “When I was about nine or ten years old my father had a bonfire of Victorian paintings. Like many a person who was inclined by nature to hoard, he sometimes had fits of clearing things out to make space, presumably for something else to accumulate. The paintings shared a loft for several years with crates of tinned fruit that he had bought during the Korean War, in the fear that the conflict would spread and rationing re-introduced. He kept the fruit and got rid of the paintings.”

    Sounds like a seriously dysfunctional family to me. And the underclass are supposed to be emulating this?

    Too funny.

    Reply
  2. Clinton

    “Sounds like a seriously dysfunctional family to me.”

    Where exactly do you see any family dysfunction displayed there? There is none described at all. You are only doing what comes naturally to you: substituting a rote ad hominem in place of any relevant, intelligent insight, which you are apparently incapable of producing.

    Reply
  3. Steve

    Who said they should? TD has written extensively about his parents’ horrible marriage. But far from saying it should be emulated, he has held it up as an example of how people often choose to create their own misery, precisely the kind of behavior one should avoid.

    See here for instance…

    http://www.city-journal.org/html/8_3_a1.html

    Regardless, surely you don’t blame the child? The sins of the father, and all that? Is there any attitude more illiberal?

    Reply
  4. Louise

    Let us see what the good doctor himself has to say about ad hominem:

    Why Intellectuals Like Genocide

    Here I confess that I am entering the world of ad hominem.

    However, when it comes to the questions of human motivation it is difficult altogether to avoid ad hominem.

    Anything Goes

    And as ich bin ein untermensch surely I cannot be judged more harshly than the good doctor.

    “Is there any attitude more illiberal?”

    Possibly but then I’ve never claimed to be anything other than ‘illiberal’.

    And who says I’m ‘blaming’ anyone? I’ve read about this episode before. In the account that I read poor little nine year old Theodore was sobbing and pleading with his father not to burn the paintings.

    Reply
  5. Gavin

    Dr Daniels himself is, of course, first rate evidence against the liberal idea that children cannot help but repeat the example of their parents, being as he is a highly insightful person whose writing enriches society, in the proper sense of the word. Since he writes with the benefit of first hand experience, he can never be accused of being naive or detached either, as are many liberals today.

    Let me help you out a little bit, Louise: the underclass (or rather those who manage them) are supposed to heed the words Dalrymple writes, not follow the example of his parents!

    You seem to struggle to understand these basic points and seem to have some kind of vendetta against TD – I hope you can get over it one day.

    Reply
  6. Louise

    Trying again:

    Let us see what the good doctor himself has to say about ad hominem:

    Why Intellectuals Like Genocide

    Here I confess that I am entering the world of ad hominem.

    However, when it comes to the questions of human motivation it is difficult altogether to avoid ad hominem.

    Anything Goes

    And as ich bin ein untermensch surely I cannot be judged more harshly than the good doctor.

    “Is there any attitude more illiberal?”

    Possibly but then I’ve never claimed to be anything other than ‘illiberal’.

    And who says I’m ‘blaming’ anyone? I’ve read about this episode before. In the account that I read poor little nine year old Theodore was sobbing and pleading with his father not to burn the paintings.

    You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be move by that.

    Reply
  7. Clinton

    There is a big difference between inserting the occasional ad hominem argument into a lifetime’s worth of substantive criticism after (almost apologetically) declaring one’s intent to do so on the one hand, and the constant resort to ad hominem on the other.

    Reply
  8. Clinton

    Well said, Gavin.

    We absolutely don’t mind someone coming here to criticize Dalrymple. In fact, we welcome and actually enjoy the exchange. We just wish Louise could be less obsessive and less personal in her approach.

    Reply
  9. Jaxon

    Have you read A Lost Art?
    http://www.city-journal.org/html/11_2_urbanities-a_lost_art.html
    and I quote:

    “This unfolding anarchism in Western art has two sources. First, a new sensibility became dominant among the artistic and intellectual elite after World War I. How was it possible to depict the world lyrically after that great cataclysm? To have done so would have been frivolous and unfeeling: or so it appeared to intellectuals, amongst whom the need to feel things more deeply and earnestly than others is an occupational hazard. (The Japanese, less involved than the Europeans in the First World War, had to wait for the Second World War for the cataclysm that delegitimated their traditional lyricism.)

    The social and cultural critic Theodor Adorno eloquently voiced this cast of mind when he proclaimed the final death of art after the Second World War. After Auschwitz, he said, it was no longer possible to produce fine art. The world had become too horrible. “There is nothing innocuous left,” he declared. “The little pleasures, expressions of life that seemed exempt from the responsibilities of thought, not only have an element of defiant silliness, of callous refusal to see, but directly serve their diametrical opposite. Even the blossoming of a tree lies the moment its bloom is seen without the shadow of terror; even the innocent ‘How lovely!’ becomes an excuse for an existence outrageously unlovely, and there is no longer beauty or consolation except in the gaze falling on horror. . . .” ”

    Reply

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