2 November 2022 Member Newsletter (268)

Save or Destroy – who chooses?

As the rolling soap opera that is Westminster politics continues, I find myself wondering if the whole world has become a gameshow. Some of you may have seen the recent Channel 4 show ‘Jimmy Carr Destroys Art’. Billed as a unique TV experiment where the audience decides whether to ‘cancel’ controversial artists and ‘offensive’ artworks. The programme certainly raised some big questions about the challenges that problematic art throws at us – but also about our relationship with art, artists and the authority (or wisdom?) of the crowd. 

So many questions, which inspired a lively debate on our NSEAD Online forum. 

The studio audience were directed to choose between works that had been purchased by Channel 4, selecting which to save and which to destroy. Jimmy Carr dismissed the obvious parallels with Nazi book burning, and destruction of so-called ‘Degenerate Art’, saying: 

‘I think that there is a very clear difference between what we are doing here and what Hitler did.’ 

What are we to make of the decisions made through this binary, performative decision-making process? Watching the show together, my daughter asked, ‘what gives the crowd the right to destroy anything?’ Some of the audience of ‘art lovers’ and presenters also found the central gimmick of the show extremely disturbing. Arguing for the preservation of work attributed to Adolf Hitler, the actor Jolyon Rubenstein said: 

‘When we destroy these things, there is a danger that we whitewash our own terrifying history.’ 

Unsuccessful in her argument to save a print of Marcus Harvey’s controversial work Myra, Janet Street-Porter was almost lost for words: 

‘I love art. To see a work of art destroyed like that – well, I’m not happy about it.’   

The works that were voted for destruction were burnt, shot and guillotined. For me this was a real shock. The ceremonial 'execution’ of things made by human hand made me shudder. The final showstopper was a nod to Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece – a performance work that is a far more disturbing and poetic exploration of the relationship between art, artist and crowd psychology. A reminder that there has always been a fine tension between creation and destruction, between the artist and the audience. 

The gamification of debate and shock gimmicks makes for provocative television, but, as one member of the studio audience asked, ‘where do we draw the line?’ Please share your views on this with us. NSEAD will be writing to Channel 4. The next time they want to stimulate debate about our complicated relationship with art, they may wish to test their ideas with NSEAD members first. 

Jimmy Carr commented, ‘we live in dark times.’ Perhaps we do, but does the answer lie in vengeful destruction? I prefer the hope of creation which drives the work of every NSEAD member.  

Michele Gregson

General Secretary


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