Friday, April 23, 2010

"Defacing works of art is a felony"

I FOUND THIS sign the other evening.

Sign - "Defacing works of art is a felony", in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA

This sign warns potential vandals against the crime of defacing a nearby public sculpture. Was this sign placed in reaction to vandalism here in the past?

But this sign is located in a law-abiding, orderly community. Law abiding citizens don't need to be warned against defacing public property; it is common sense.  Such people won't deface an artwork even if they don't like it.

If drunks are defacing this property, then the community's problem is more clearly public drunkenness and not vandalism, and policing should be concentrated on this area's many bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Likewise, the sign is useless against immature children and the severely mentally ill.

Now it is entirely possible that there are some intelligent, mentally sound, mature adults, not under the influence of alcohol, who honestly don't know that defacing public property is a crime, while also thinking that vandalism is completely acceptable. For this kind of person, this sign would be educational and useful; but does this kind of person exist? If not, the sign is still useless.

This sign might deter principled vandals, those may who want to deface the artwork for the greater good, yet out of prudence aren't willing to pay the severe consequences for that action. Liberal thinkers such as Gustave Courbet, Norman Mailer, Friedrich Nietzsche, and many performance artists have defended vandalism on the basis of principle — although their principles are problematic if not outright wrong. But if the community leaders fear principled vandals, then they have a very serious disconnect with local opinion. Perhaps this isn't the right artwork for this particular place?

Most criminal vandalism is caused by juvenile delinquents. When I was growing up, the standard liberal explanation stated that delinquency was caused by alienation of the youth from their hypocritical, inauthentic elders: such alienated youth would vandalize as a way of expressing their own authenticity and freedom. But if this is true, then the local schools and parents ought not purposely alienate their children, and rather ought to authoritatively teach and practice authentic values and not encourage students to come up with their own value opinions. Vandalism unfortunately is to be expected under our current system.

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