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Aesthetics: Attacks on Art

Many who damage artworks in public collections declare themselves unhappy with the artwork or with the ideas it represents. This section explores three Tate works subjected in the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s to verbal attacks in the press and to physical attacks by individuals. The rationale for each attack was politically motivated, but each iconoclast was responding to the aesthetics or appearance of the artwork. Both abstract and figurative art attracted negative reactions.

Iconoclastic attacks on art are unique events, but all involve the same elements: an artwork, an artist, an iconoclast, an owner and an audience. When an individual attacks a work of art, the reasons can seem rational to the attacker, but irrational to others, and sometimes impossible to understand. Verbal attacks in the press can stimulate debate about an object, and lead to a physical attack that is often sensationalised and mythologised.