Downright Thievery... For Art's Sake!

by Maksymilian Kapelanski

True Story #1


I will begin with a true story to get your mind going into some criminally artistic alleyways.

Two artists, let’s call them artist A and artist B, went on an escapade to a semi-forgotten, post-industrial part of Montreal. They walked into a junkyard with used mechanical parts: small and large metal and rubber wheels, wires of various thicknesses and colours, derelict parts of engines, convoluted contents of old telephones, and a multitude of unidentifiable, gutted factory devices, all piled up to the ceiling. In the centre there was a space with three chairs on which sat three old, drunken men. They called the shots regarding the visit, and by sipping some alcohol they ensured everything ran smoothly from their perspective. The two artists greeted the men and, with their permission, started rummaging through the junk. They finally picked out a handful of morsels of metal to use in their art.

The three drunken men then had a conference and called out the prices: “Twenty-five cents! Fifty cents! Two dollars!” But when the artists came out onto the street and started walked home, they observed that for just a handful of junk the total sum felt as if they made some large purchase, and they expressed his disappointment at the blatantly commercial aspect of the exchange. The old men had charged quite a bit! But for some reason, Artist A was less worried. Artist B showed him what he bought at the junkyard. Artist A in turn showed him a small screw, and said: “I stole this”. “That’s why yours is better than mine”, answered artist B.

An illustration of Artist A’s solution to the anti-creative commodification of art, the story shows how symbolic value used to liberate art was more important in his mind than the fact of committing an offence and--let us not forget--depriving several men of the means to buying a few more drops of alcohol. While he could afford to buy the screw, this would not allow him to knock out a brick from the Wall of Commerce. Not everyone would agree, naturally.


True Story # 2


For an interesting comparison, I will continue with a second true story about the same thieving Artist A and another, heretofore unmentioned artist--let’s call him Artist C.

Artist C, a true, sensitive idealist, was once violtently accosted by his mafioso landlord, who got him into a chokehold and threatened him verbally. Later in the day, Artist A, a friend of the victim, lent him some funds to escape the apartment and execute a “midnight move”. He let him sleep on his couch while he looked for a new place, and he fed him cereal in the morning and beer in the evening--the celebrated staples of many a serious artistic activity. They had plenty of time to catch up and even shed a few tears of close camaraderie. Artist C (the sensitive idealist) noticed in passing that in contrast to himself, Artist A (who stole the screw for art’s sake) hadn’t been working much on his art lately. When Artist C finally left for a new, safe home, Artist A noticed that the former had connivingly stolen his digital camera. Months later, he found his idealistic friend’s new artistic website, which he made with the camera. The major theme of the website was the sensitive relationship of Art and Love.


Conclusions: Your Turn


Since the artist who stole the junkyard screw for art’s sake also got a piece of his property stolen in the name of art, and the thievery was committed by another artist, several complex ethical and philosophical questions naturally arise. I’m sure your mind is teeming with them. But I will not help, lest I spoil your fun! A philosophical cliffhanger is often most effective.


My Project


To commemorate and problematize the theme of thievery and art I am making small pieces made out of cut-outs of the Robin Hood logo from packages of Quick Oats. The image of Robin Hood, the beloved hero of good-will thievery, is commented upon by a title-quotation: The Price of Myths. This title-quotation comes from a chapter of a 1948 book by D. Ewen Cameron. As backing for the art I am using recuperated book covers that provide a handsome, colourful, and sturdy background. I am using different colours and sizes for the backings, and two different sizes of the logo (as present on the original packages) for smaller and larger versions of the pieces. The works are available framed and unframed.