Destruction has been recognized as an accepted element of fine art since the 1950s, in part thanks to the international Destructivist art movement in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) in 1966. The movement aimed “to focus attention on the element of destruction in Happenings and other art forms, and to relate this destruction in society” (July 1966 DIAS press release) in reaction to the overwhelming violence of the twentieth century, in particularly the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II. Artists commented on violence and destruction through destructive performances (such as Raphael Montañez Ortiz demolishing a piano at the symposium itself) and using destructive means on canvas within the context of painting.
However, DIAS’s understanding of the role of destruction in art was that it is valid within the context of the creative process, but not in the destruction of art itself (Stiles 41-65). The artists at DIAS also pursued destructive processes as a comment on the violence and destruction rampant in the modern world (Stiles 41-65). This raises questions of what art actually fits into their definition and whether this definition is still valid today. Even Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing, made thirteen years before the Destruction in Art Symposium, does not quite fit into this categorization despite being integral to the formation of the acceptance of destruction in postmodern art.
Where is the line drawn, then? At what point does destruction cross into the realm of mindlessness or destruction for destruction’s sake? What about issues of appropriation and authorship? In recent years, this discussion has gathered speed in both the world of fine art and in more unconventional venues such as popular media and graffiti. In analyzing incidents of questionable destruction within the broader context of postmodern and contemporary art, we build a dialogue surrounding the role and ethics of destructive acts in the creative process.