Iconoclasm

In response to Katy Harrison's excellent and thought-provoking article

https://www.theelenchus.org/post/thoughts-on-the-portrayal-of-historical-figures-and-present-values

I think the discussion of iconoclasm is significant following the recent advocation for the defacement of historical statues around London in light of the Black Lives Matter protests that have swept through many modern first world countries. The feminist argument in favour of the destruction of images of Henry VIII resonates (though of course also differs) from the argument being made from the perspective of BLM protestors - essentially why should we have to glorify and honour figures who promoted suppressive and abusive ideals? Yet I do think it is absolutely essential to question what is being achieved through iconoclasm of art. I think the problem lies in the reality that if one destroys art then one is also censoring and removing a representation of historical fact. This is a matter that requires intricate discussion so I will clarify my opinion. I despise the anti-feminist attitudes of Henry VIII, as do I despise and find repugnant, the torture inflicted on ethnic minorities by colonialists such as Colston. However, I do think it is crucial to understand history for what it was, and to understand that statues represent the values that were once glorified in a historical past. I think in many ways statues do not simply glorify historical figures and are more than monomaniacal emblems of that singular individual's power. Instead, I believe they embody and encapsulate whole historical periods and the values or social structures that were in place at that specific point in history. I am not denying that problematic attitudes towards woman and racial groups still exist nor am I classing such attitudes as an 'issue of the past'; I am simply explaining that statues were made in light of the values at the time which have been improved upon significantly, though not completely.


Furthermore, minority groups rightfully call for an expansion of the educational system to, for example, encompass a deeper study of women's history and further express the right to be taught literature that explores the voices of writers from backgrounds that stray from the common educational literary canon characterised by voices that are Western, male, pale and stale. I fully and entirely support this notion, but then find it ironic and perhaps hypocritical to simultaneously advocate for the removal of historical statues and historical artwork that within itself captures history itself. What's more, I believe that if one aims to problematise and indeed eradicate the censorship and silencing of minority voices then one cannot simply do this by silencing or censoring another group. This achieves very little. I do think iconoclasm is a form of censorship and whilst I myself do not believe the racial attitudes of Churchill were correct nor believe that the views of gender held by the likes of Napoleon and Henry VIII were correct, I do think it's essential to see them in context. I don't think we are ever too detached from any period of history for the past to not matter as I think values metamorphose and can be seen through the lens of continuum. However, I do think that it is important to have a strong understanding of the historical context and to consider carefully that we could use historical statues and artwork as a mode of measuring our progression rather than destroying them to try and prove that we have destroyed that element of our history.Thus, I think it is self-defeating and contradictory to commit iconoclasm. Instead we should reconsider how we think about those statues or artworks in light of modern social change and see them as an opportunity to tell a story and to track social progress. If we simply remove such statues we lose the capacity to actually explain incredibly valuable points about social change that may actually aid, rather than devalue the power of modern social movements such as the BLM and feminist movements.


This is again, a speculative and personal opinion so feel free to comment below. Discussion, as ever, is welcomed.

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