It’s amazing how a little artwork can make a difference in your perception of a place and bring a smile to your face, besides. Whether it’s a pelican statue carefully perched atop a dead tree, or some colorful nativist paintings in a hotel room, art is enriching. It makes you appreciate the fact that someone cared enough and paid attention to what might seem like little details — but those little details can add such color and flair and turn a nice setting into a really memorable one.
On Sunday, at London’s Tate Modern Art Museum, a visitor walked up to the Mark Rothko painting Black on Maroon and boldly wrote some words on the painting in black paint, then left the museum.
Today a Russian named Vladimir Umamets claimed responsibility for the act, but said it was not an act of vandalism. According to the BBC, he was later was arrested and held on suspicion of causing criminal damage. The BBC also reports that Umamets claims to be the founder of a “movement” called “Yellowism,” which apparently posits that “Art allows us to take what someone’s done and put a new message on it.”
I don’t know if there really is a “movement” called Yellowism, as opposed to one nutty jerk seeking to justify an otherwise senseless act of artistic destruction, but his philosophy is asinine. Part of the joy of art is its aspirational aspect. People appreciate art that reflects great talent that they don’t possess. Anyone who thinks a great painting is just a canvas for their personal aggrandizement is just piggybacking on greatness they could never achieve on their own talent.
What would happen if every museum patron felt free to scrawl whatever they pleased on a Rothko — or the Mona Lisa? It wouldn’t be long before a Rothko ceased to be a Rothko and instead became a patch of random graffiti. If I wanted to see that, I would book a flight for inner city Detroit. Come to think of it, that might be a suitable punishment for whomever actually defaced the painting: sentence them to a few years scrubbing away the graffiti in British toilets.