Securing Our Culture

Yesterday’s post discussed the return of the world famous painting The Scream, the biggest thing that many people said when it happened was just how easy the robbery was to pull off. Honestly it was the sort of thing you could see teenagers pull off, and in fact it wasn’t much different from robbing the local convenience store. Walk in pretending to be interested in something, make your way to what you want, put on masks, pull out a gun, threaten everybody, grab the goods, run out, jump into a car, switch cars a couple of times and drive away and that was it. The monetary value of the two paintings is estimated at roughly 125.97 million dollars, however this doesn’t and never has or will take into account the cultural value of these paintings. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, The Scream is widely recognized as one of the most famous paintings in modern society. Why is that museums are not protecting out culture, is it that expensive to protect artwork or can it be done easily and cheaply?


I am here to say that yes it can be expensive, it can become outrageously expensive very quickly. There are several reasons for this, guards, cameras, people to monitor the cameras, sophisticated alarm systems and the numerous other modern security measures are expensive to operate and maintain. The inherent problem with protecting a museum is that the items are on public display, they can’t be put into a safe, and I would not wish to deny anyone the ability to enjoy these precious artworks. However, I think there are several measures museums could do to provide better protection while still allowing the public to view the works unhindered and without shelling out bushels of money.


The first and perhaps the easiest and cheapest thing to do, is to put paintings and other artwork that can be easily carried off behind a plastic case. There are two reasons for this, first because as we observed with The Scream artwork can be stolen in the middle of the day while everyone is there working, second because it allows for more sophisticated measures to easily be put in place. The first is fairly obvious, if a painting or piece of pottery is behind plastic that can not be ripped down quickly and easily or broken, the artwork isn’t going to be stolen in several seconds. The second reason allows for sensors to be installed around and on the plastic cover to monitor the painting and the wall behind it for anyone trying to remove the plastic or the wall to get at the painting. These could very easily be sensors that are hard wired to notify either a security guard or even the police automatically. However this could quickly turn into an expensive deal to protect pottery that can be found in hundreds of other museums. However that fact that museums haven’t implemented this simple security measures strikes me as very stupid. It would not hinder you from viewing the artwork and you already aren’t allowed to touch the artwork, so this seems to be a very effective technique to protect artwork especially when you are spending at most $100 or so dollars to protect art worth in the million dollar range.


The second is to simply provide high resolution scans of the artwork, especially paintings. Have you ever tried searching for a high quality scan of famous artwork. It is basically impossible to find one that is actually usable. Companies promote the idea of not providing these scans so they can make money of off prints, but honestly how many people have access or the time to find access to a high quality, large printer to make these prints. I normally just want something that will look good as a background to my computer or that I can use to look at every once in awhile whenever I want to. Providing these scans is a two fold measure, first you insure that even if the artwork is stolen and never recovered the ideas expressed in the artwork and the artwork itself can still live on in a digital format. The second is that this would actually promote people to go and see the images in person. Sure a painting looks good on the computer, but seeing the scans of artwork only titillates my senses to go and see the artwork for real.


When I wish museums to secure our culture, it isn’t just against the art thieves of the world it is also protecting the ideas that are expressed in the art. Art is a powerful form of identity for cultures, massive insight is discovered in examining the artwork from different periods of time. A complete record for historians is a key in our society’s continual reevaluation of history and what it means to modern society.

Justin Yost is a full-time Software Engineer and a part time educator. A graduate of Texas Tech University with a bachelor's degree in computer science, Justin relishes programming and learning more about anything and everything. When not working, Justin occasionally gives talks at the local PHP Meetup. In his free time, Justin enjoys backpacking and reading science fiction books.

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