World of Image Making—The Good and the Bad—How to Tell the Difference

Edmund Burke, the famed Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, exclaimed in his far reaching An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs of 1791):  “Art is man’s nature”.  As we move through time and space within the Art Historical journey of man/woman, we come to periods of extreme creativity and prolific art making as well as epochs where images are reviled, they are seen as dangerous, and leaders step forward and persuade the multitude to destroy the offensive forms.  The destruction of imagery is called iconoclasm.  We are witnesses right now to the destruction of artistic production in the name of religion.  The current war in Syria is not only destroying the lives of residents throughout Syria but also the artistic monuments left for our gaze by  earlier inhabitants.  The cry for freedom by “modern” artists, the desire to leave the past in favor of new interpretations of the present and the potential future is being misrepresented and confused as iconoclasts subject their vitriol through the false “spin” and “propaganda” of religious fears of idolatry.  The Russian dissident, Boris Pasternak has stated in his powerful tome Dr. Zhivago:  “Salvation lies not in the faithfulness to forms, but in the liberation from them.”  Irving Howe, a once prominent Jewish-American literary and social critic, exclaimed:  “Modernity consists in a revolt against the prevailing style, an unyielding rage against the official order.”   The iconoclasts today are using brute force and a “might makes right”  mentality to destroy the creative images of our ancestors because of fear of idolatry.  What are your thoughts on the breaking/destruction of images in the name of religion?  Are images dangerous?  Should “offensive” images be destroyed?  How do you decide what stays and what is destroyed?

Temple of Baal Shamin, Palmyra, Syra

ISIS Destruction of Baal Shamin, Palmyra, Syria

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

17 Comments

17 thoughts on “World of Image Making—The Good and the Bad—How to Tell the Difference”

  1. Acting as a skeptic, I think everything is understood on different terms. If they believe idolatry must be undone from the religious freedoms they follow, then it should remain inconsequential as it is indifferent to other cultures and tradition. Clearly these pieces of art have been made to last for centuries and some can say worshiped. If these sacrifices are false promises, then it would seem unfit without God’s interference. If they do all this for the name of their God, I suppose they have reason to mutilate and destroy the art’s existence. Offensive could often be subjective, tarnishing art is also a hateful act at its core value. If no one would claim anything in this world, then religion could justify the ruin of art to an extent. There is jurisdiction, however, but that is left to territorial laws. An organized group such as the iconoclasts have disheartened me, the work of something meant to be exclusive and not meant to be mass produced, thus becomes a wasted dream from the purpose of which it was ascribed generations ago.

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  2. While I do not agree with the worship rituals of pagan religions, I don’t think that it is necessary to destroy art or artifacts form the past that we can use to learn more about ancient peoples. Additionally, even though I do think that certain images are dangerous, I do not believe it is anyone’s place to try to determine or control what those images are for someone else. When it comes to matters of religion, I try to adhere to the practice of sharing my beliefs and faith when welcomed, but otherwise be neutral and non-basis in my statements.

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  3. There are acceptable ways of proclaiming one’s faith and arguing for one’s beliefs. Iconoclasm is not one of them. Iconoclasm is a form of censorship and I do not believe censorship has a place in a modern society. We may certainly debate what actually constitutes censorship in other contexts, but the destruction of images based on religious or political grounds is censorship. Of course, there are certain images or ideas that may be considered “dangerous” or “offensive,” but I do not believe that any person has the authority to determine if it should or should not be destroyed. It sets a dangerous precedent when we give one person, or a group of people, the authority to determine if certain imagery should be destroyed or not. Of course, there is a difference between destroying or banning certain imagery considered dangerous and removing it from public view to place in a museum. The latter, I believe, is more acceptable than iconoclasm.

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  4. This is complicated topic. Religion is a powerful word for many people. I believe in the value of religion but it doesn’t mean we can destroy historical arts and images. We need to respect historical arts and other people’s hard work. Everybody has different opinion about religion but respecting each other could be more valuable than Religion.

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  5. I am heartbroken by the violence and bloodshed in today’s world and there is no doubt that the human suffering caused by war and destruction is beyond my experience and comprehension. There is something about the wanton destruction of ancient monuments and sculptures that that really grates on my soul. It is yet another symbol of complete disrespect and stripping all value of humanity from the oppressed by those waging these wars. They are wars motivated by ideology and this spreads to the destruction of cultural/religious symbols and images. The complete obliteration of the culture is a means to break the will of their targeted peoples. For me, there is never a reason to destroy historical artifacts such as the Temple of Baal Shamin. Some images may be “offensive” because they involve the oppression or harming of another individual in their making – of course these should be destroyed, but temples, sculptures, and artifacts that are part of an ancestral history should be preserved, whether they contradict your beliefs or not.

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  6. Now this topic is complicated, many people take their religion to the extreme, where others just want to believe. I don’t agree on the destruction of art or artifacts from our past where it can be significantly important to learn about ancient ancestors. Everyone’s opinion matters and we need to respect each other’s beliefs.

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  7. In our constitution, we all are aware of the first amendment. The first amendment is stated for us American citizens to have the freedom of speech. I believe that every individual, whether they live in Syria or not, should all have these rights. I am a true believer of people having the right to express themselves. These art pieces that are being destroyed express our ancestors. It is a door to our ancestors point of view. The fact that these pieces are being destroyed breaks my heart. I know myself and I could only imagine how I would feel if someone ruined one of my sculptures because it offended them. I can only hope that people can become respectful and realize that every person deserves to make their own decisions about what religion to follow. Every person has the right to express themselves in whatever fashion they choose.

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  8. I don’t think artistic monuments, regarding religion or that locations culture should be destroyed. There is contemporary art and even historical art that is offensive to people, but that does not mean that they go there themselves and destroy them by force and violence. What one finds offensive may be sacred to another, so I do not think destroying those images is the answer. For me, this is an extremely subjective topic. It brings up the idea of freedom of speech and religion, we should be able to practice our beliefs and say what we want to say, without fear of being repressed. Ideally, we should be aware that our belief is not the only one, and be tolerant and respectful of others.

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  9. I believe there is always ideologies and images from past civilizations and religions that have outdated philosophies or teachings, but it does not mean we should destroy those pieces of history. Whether it be monuments or smaller pieces of art, we all have the capacity to learn from history. I think a similar comparison we could look at is the use of the confederate flag in today’s society. I think that it represents old ideologies and is outdated, I don’t think every historical artifact relating to the confederates should be destroyed, but I think that we should not keep these flags on shelves or have them presented next to the American or state flags simply because they do not share the same values as we do with our American flag today. It is a piece of history that should be recognized but not implemented in today’s world. I think the iconoclasts use of brute force is sending a different message than they intend. Their extreme actions will only be met with extreme countermeasures. I think this will end with one side being shut out, causing more turmoil unless it is solved orderly.

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  10. Breaking/destruction of images in the name of religion seems to be like a habit that’s hard to break. But just like any bad habit, it can be broken through conversation and education. Perhaps when people are more educated, they might have compassion and respect for another culture. The Irish Monks who saved the books from the barbarians understood the importance of conservation for future generations. No matter what the books were about, they still saved them. It gives me great sadness and sort of hopelessness when humans destroy images because of their religion. I understand that certain images are prohibited or discouraged but it’s still the individual’s choice to destroy artifacts/artworks. Personally, if an image offends me, I would just move my attention away from it. When I’m given a book that’s not to my liking, I simply store it somewhere in the bookshelf or in a box somewhere. I don’t understand other people’s need to destroy.

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  11. I was raised religious and maintain a general sense of belief— a modern day sense if you will— and feel as if everyone has the right to feel or believe however they’d like. Feel being the operative word, I do not believe in the right of destroying others’ beliefs. In a way, art is one’s beliefs manifested into physical form, so in the act of defacing it, they are putting forward that others’ beliefs are invalid and ultimately, worthless. Images cannot be dangerous if people are taught that there are many points of view, therefore allowing people to make the decision for themselves on what they choose to allow them discomfort, with that being said, I find it unacceptable to label something offensive by means of destroying it.

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  12. ok so when it comes to the destruction of an image I get a bit bias in keeping them. my stand point lies in the art rather than the message. it doesn’t matter if the message is unwanted art, skill, talent are what matters to me. its similar to WWII propaganda I may not like the message but that was someones idea and it symbolizes character and aspects of the creator.

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  13. I do not agree with destroying images in the name of religion, because religion is filled with moral contradictions, be it Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Mormonism, and the many hundreds religions found on this planet. What is offense to one religion might be fine to another because of their interpretation of god or gods. No religion has any right to destroy any image they deem offense or vile. Can images be dangerous? Perhaps certain images are dangerous, such as those that promote hate, fear, intolerance, and bigotry. Should they be destroyed? No they shouldn’t be destroyed but they should be analyzed to see how and why these images even exist. These also should not be paraded or put on a pedestal. Images however can always be interpreted differently by every person, so there really is no way to figure out what images should be destroyed or if they are so offensive they are deemed to be destroyed.

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  14. The destruction of images regarding anything is ultimately trying to both erase and reject the history behind the imagery. No matter how disturbing the images, the destruction of these images shows that one believes they are beyond the concept of time and humanity itself. Destroying imagery does not erase the past or erase the ideals, but it is a way for people to believe that they are defying mankind and erasing time. No matter how offensive an image is, it is important to preserve it to keep as a reminder of history to remember either a brutal past or a better time.

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  15. The rituals of different religions can be found offensive to many and hate crimes are constantly occurring around the world because of it. However, this act of hatred went too far. I believe that even though an artifact does not coexist with your beliefs, there shouldn’t be a reason to destroy it. Artifacts theses days are very scarce and it teaches us on the lifestyles and the way our ancestors thought. I, however, do not believe these images of the destruction of the Baal Shamin should be removed as it shows how history manages to repeat itself from time to time, it is inevitable to erase history (The Library of Alexandria) In hopes that people will steer clear of these types of choices and hopefully one day we could learn to preserve and protect what can be known to be beneficial for future generations.

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  16. It is heartbroken to see historical monument disappear in a one blink of an eye. All the images and past history can’t be learned or be seen without any of these historical monument left in the world. I don’t believe it is okay for someone or group to destroy an ancient artifact just because of its religion. I also don’t believe “offensive” images should be destroyed because all of these becomes part of historical past and we learn by seeing the images. I believe ancient artifacts are one of the key to learn our ancestor and ancient people who lived in our past and to understand their culture and insight of their lives, we will have to see the different monument that they have left for us. It is sad to see the artifact fallen apart because of its long history but just because this specific art work is “offensive” to the certain group or people, I don’t believe it is right to just destroy the remaining artwork which are preserved in a good condition.

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  17. As someone who was once a Catholic and now no longer associates with Catholic practices, I find no harm in images; however, I can see how others who are devoutly against images see them as threatening. Those who believe images pose a threat fear that followers of the religion may become too attached to the humanly figure and start to forget the ideals and fundamentals of the religion. Therefore, people like this tend to see images as “offensive” and destroy them, as we see in the Grecian marbles, Egypt, and other ancient artifacts. I find the breaking/destruction of these artifacts unnecessary and questionable. Firstly, when these images are destroyed or defaced, whether it be in the name of religion or in a barbaric sense, one is destroying and attacking a culture and their history. Secondly, going to the extent of destroying images is a hate crime and an act of terrorism (as seen with ISIS bombings). “Offensive” images should not be destroyed but should be treated as relics. Nothing should be destroyed; there should not have to be a decision to choose what stays or goes. Just like the Irish monks had diligently copied the books that were not even of their own religion, others should take the opportunity to save these important parts of culture and history.

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