Art Doctor: onions and axes.

Dear Art Doctor,

My friend is a complete food snob. He’s always criticising what I eat and how I cook – he caught me putting cheese slices in the white sauce for my lasagne the other day and now says he has “lost all respect” for me. To give you an indication of just how ridiculous he is, he says he only likes Roscoff onions from Henri’s in Morningside (“they’re so pink and delicious”, apparently). I barely care about the difference between red and white. How can I make him leave me alone?

I’d like to prescribe a little case study as a cure for you. In 1920, the Dadaists put on what would become one of their most famous exhibitions in the conservatory of a restaurant in Cologne. Visitors were provided with axes so that they could smash the art if they didn’t like it.

So far, so (pre-health and safety) art school. What use is this to you? The obvious answer is this: if you don’t like it, don’t put up with it. I am not – I repeat, most vehemently, not – advocating that you take an axe to either your friend or his food. But why tolerate behaviour that makes you unhappy?

Here’s the catch, though – something about this exhibition, for all its anarchic joy, has always struck me as being very sad. It only took one person who took a dislike to a piece of art to destroy it, and then it’s just… gone. And different people like different things. So yes, explain to your friend that he shouldn’t speak to you the way he does; but be delicate, if you can. Brandishing the (proverbial) axe should be enough – don’t strike.

Originally published in The Student, 24 January 2012. 


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