“I really understand wanting to punch art,” I wrote back to my Editor after being asked my opinion on the Andrew Shannon Monet-punching story. “I think about it almost daily.” And I do.
Personally-speaking, I can think of several specific incidents during which I have fantasized about punching an artwork in the last five years alone: at the height of "First Thursdays" mania in East London three or four years ago, for instance, I attended a "hip" show by an artist whose work was assembled from raw pasta, what looked like human hair, and a number of china dinner plates, in which one artwork had been given the title A Portrait of the Actress Whoopi Goldberg, and another A Portrait of the Actor Richard Pryor—a decision which felt not only fundamentally wrong and nonsensical, but also faintly, inexplicably racist in its pointlessness. The whole thing felt like the kind of trendy slapstick play that the filmmaker Harmony Korine makes with famous names, where casual juxtapositions and roughshod word-associations make a kind of white-trash Hollywood mythology; but the joke had fallen flat. Gluing a handful of fusilli to a dish and then naming it after a prominent African American media personality isn't a hate crime in the most traditional sense, I'll admit, but it felt off nonetheless: the work was eminently punchable, both then and in retrospect, and I wish I'd smashed it when I had the chance.
My point is this: while I wouldn't dare to equate a creakily-crafted depiction of the star of Sister Act—rendered in raw Italian food, no less—with the work of Claude Monet, the principle remains the same. Art can have the power to alienate, infuriate, or confound its viewer, almost to the point of distraction. Sometimes this is good, and sometimes it is bad; I have also seen art which made me angry in the way that a thing makes you angry when you wish you had thought of it first (the very first time I saw Blue Velvet on the big screen I was, dumbly, absolutely incensed. Incensed!), or because it made me consider things about the world which I knew to be true, but which I wasn't entirely ready to face. At six years old, my parents took me to the National Gallery, and I saw the painting Whistlejacket by George Stubbs, and I cried and cried with something a little like rage. As an adult, I might be tempted to theorize that it made me angry and overwhelmed to think that there was so much real and enormous and unattainable beauty in the universe; as a six-year-old girl, I imagine it was more to do with the fact that I'd never own a pony. Even a child's reaction to art is still a reaction, and valid—my God, I'd have punched that Monet myself as a kid, if it meant that I'd get my own horse.
If the feeling of wanting to tussle with artworks occasionally isn't a common one, why has a Monet-punching simulator also popped up on the internet within the last few days? (Perhaps you've played it — if so, please send me your high-score. I'd like to hear from someone who's done the full eight-million sterling damage, so that I can send them a card and fruit basket.)
New York Magazine's Vulture offshoot calls the painting “a stupid, pathetic streak of paint single sailboat” in a write-up about the game: you see how pent up all art critics are, underneath it all, to a man? Picture having to traipse from gallery to warehouse to “pop-up creation space” looking at the wares of artists of varying degrees of talent, year-in, year-out. The horror! The horror! You can't tell me that the biggest names in art criticism haven't considered feigning a faint, fist-out, near a canvas—Shannon-style— at least once: probably once an hour at Art Basel Miami Beach, if this year's reports are to be believed.
ArtNet calls our Monet-puncher a thug, but is he also, in some awful way, a folk hero for the angry critic, allowing the unsaid to come to light not in written copy, but in a flurry of fists? True leaders of men are always complicated. Shannon on, you crazy diamond.
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