Oh, did I mention I’ve been depressed lately? Anyhow, the vandalizing of this public sculpture is part of what has me down.
I think I first began to articulate my feelings about this decades ago, probably in the mid-seventies. The junior high building here in town (yes, this was before anyone had heard of a “middle school”) was a wonderful red brick structure, high ceilings, oiled wood floors, etc. It was burned to the ground one night by a kid with low IQ and even lower moral comprehension.
The school building had been designed by intelligent, highly trained architects and engineers. The school’s overall meaning had been created by generations of dedicated teachers, and by generations of students who were certainly unaware at the time but who realized later the heritage they had helped develop.
Yet the building and all its accrued meaning were destroyed in a single night, by a single clueless delinquent. Well, not all of its meaning, obviously, else I wouldn’t be writing this. But you know what I mean. The structure itself was a physical emblem and anchor for all the figurative, emotional meanings of all the persons who lived in this community, regardless of whether they personally had attended or taught at the school.
To conceive, design, craft/build a physical construction… to dedicate a significant part of one’s life in investing meaning in that completed construction… That’s hard. That requires putting one’s inner life on the line. That calls for significant individual sacrifice.
But to destroy the craft/construction? Piffle. A single delinquent, with a can of gas and a match, can accomplish that in a single moment.
To compare this “micro” social phenomenon to the “macro” physics phenomenon of entropy is a distortion. But the fact remains that to create is difficult, while to destroy is easy. Individual works of art like the Portland Vase are fragile, much easier to destroy than to create. Individual cultural structures like DeLand Junior High and their meaning take decades to create, but just moments to destroy. A life like Martin Luther King’s or Bobby Kennedy’s takes many decades of moral and intellectual evolution to emerge … but just a demented second to destroy.
What makes me reflect on this right now? I made a crude video celebrating the Pole People public sculpture in downtown DeLand. The sculpture had been created by artist John Wilton. It was on display in a park where anyone could enjoy it. And just after I made my video the sculpture was vandalized. Any reasonable person could find joy in interacting visually and imaginatively with this good-spirited work. Only a few could satisfy some perverse need by trying to destroy it.
But one of those few did so.
Individual lives are hard to build but easy to destroy. So are individual works of art. And so is civilization itself.