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David and Art - Erasing Culture

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Museums of all sorts anchor us to history, and show us who we are.

I don’t know if there’s anything artistic about it, but there’s nothing like a good Three Stooges pie fight. It’s hard for the stuffy aristocrat in his tuxedo to maintain his airs of superiority covered in cream pie, or cake and frosting.

Such is the case as well, it seems, with great works of art. At the end of May someone in Paris attacked the Mona Lisa with a fist full of frosted cake. It was, apparently, a form of climate protest. The world-famous painting, which is encased beneath a clear protective shield, was not in the least bit damaged and a crew simply wiped the cake from her face with very little long-term loss of her dignity.

A much more serious attack against an art museum unfolded with much greater loss at the Dallas Museum of Art on the first of June. There, a 21-year-old man broke into the museum and began smashing display cases housing antiquities. Museum officials report that four ceramic pieces were destroyed and numerous others damaged. A Greek vase and a drinking cup from the 6th century BC, a Greek box from the 5th century BC, and a more recent work—a ceramic bottle created by a member of the Caddo tribe in the timeless ancestral method—were all reduced to broken shards. Imagine the path that that drinking cup had taken through its 2,500 years of existence: first created in Ancient Greece, before Socrates and Plato and Aristotle walked the streets of Athens. It was over 500 years old when the apostle Paul showed up there to preach the new Christian gospel. Two millennia later it had reached Dallas, Texas and was under the care of an art museum. It, and those other artifacts, are now destroyed. Gone. Our world is very slightly, but unarguably, diminished.

Losses like this, particularly when they take place inside museums, bring us up short, and when we consider the ramifications, put museums in a rather different light. Apparently, they can be something other than just storehouses of elite art accumulated through the ages with little connection to the people among whom they live. We can feel some sort of connection with them that often, unfortunately, only really touches us when they’re somehow taken away.

One thing museums do is assemble and host a very tangible link with the past. I think we overlook that too much. We often consider museums as just repositories of paintings and whatever that may or may not appeal to us. But they’re more than that. They anchor us to history.