I don’t condone the vandalism or destruction of art works. Attacking art in a public museum or gallery is a particularly dickish act, even by the normal standards of no, seriously, don’t fucking do it you idiot. However, I question the need to jail a man for six years simply because he punched a Monet painting. The incident took place in 2012 at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, but he’s only just been sentenced. Andrew Shannon (described here as a “French Polisher”, which I’m sure is also some kind of obsolete sexual slang) claimed in court that he had a dizzy spell and fell fistwards into the painting. Witnesses said otherwise, and it didn’t look good that he’d muttered something about getting back at the state or that he had paint stripper in his bag. Maybe the French polishing thing was an attempt to explain the paint stripper. I’m never sure exactly how so-called rebels or iconoclasts think the state or the art world elite is more than fleetingly bothered by attacks on old paintings by dead artists, let alone rocked to its very foundations, but anyway… he’s doing six years in the slammer for it. I know it’s a different country and legal system, but for some perspective let’s consider Oscar Pistorious recently getting five years for riddling his screaming, terrified girlfriend with bullets.
What we really need to examine here is the phrase that’s parroted uncritically, verbatim, in all the reports about the initial vandalism and the recent conviction of Shannon: “painting worth £7.8 million.” How and why is it “worth” £7.8 million? Is it really? According to whom? The artist wasn’t paid the equivalent of £7.8 million. The museum probably didn’t pay £7.8 million for it. How can any work of art be “worth” such an arbitrarily large sum, which is clearly beyond any form of rational analysis or justification? “Valued at” £7.8 million might be a more measured and correct phrase, though this also fails to tell us why or by whom. It’s not even an interesting painting. Only the Monet signature on it would ever make anybody look twice; it’s a prestige fetish object. It is certainly irreplaceable as an authenticated Monet relic, but it’s not as if nobody before or after him ever did a pretty little nothing of a painting with a lake and a sailboat. Now it’s been restored and repaired, a significant proportion of this small painting is not even the original one that Monet worked on. So at this point how does it differ significantly from an indistinguishably perfect copy painted by a hack in China?
When you’ve pondered these weighty and complex issues for a while, you may like to relax yourself by “getting back at the state” and accidentally “falling” on the painting in this startlingly realistic simulation of Mr. Shannon’s exciting day out at the art museum: