The peanut butter floor: On the responsibility of artists
While visiting the museum yesterday, one particular exhibit caught my eye, or rather, my nose: the peanut butter floor. It was devised in the 1960s by Wim T. Schippers, a Dutch artist who is probably best-known for voicing Ernie in the Dutch version of Sesame Street. In fact, he, together with Paul Haenen as Bert, does this so well that they were allowed to write the Dutch dialogues themselves.
As much as I am a fan of his portrayal of Ernie though, I can’t say the same about his peanut butter floor. I’m not a fan of conceptual art in general, but I can appreciate that some people get some enjoyment out of it. And indeed, a floor that’s smeared with peanut butter is an excellent example of Schippers’ philosophy that even if things are completely absurd and useless, they can still be worth doing.
But I have two problems with this peanut butter floor as presented by Boijmans. First of all, you can’t walk on it, or even taste it (though you can smell it, my word, you can smell the thing from miles away). The whole thing is religiously guarded by museum staff, thus exalting it to the status of art, while it would be more appropriate as an interactive concept. By that I mean they should have done it like in 1997, when the peanut butter floor could be walked on, and slipped on. Not that I would have visited it in that case, but at least it would have made things a bit more interesting!
My second concern is a rather more serious one. The floor took 900 litres of peanut butter to complete. A family could eat peanut butter sandwiches for years and years from that. In a time when some people are having a lot of trouble making ends meet, I don’t feel such waste of food should be applauded and even called art.
You could argue that all art costs money, and that money could have been used to buy food. That’s true, but the same could be said about anything that’s not food, not just about art. The problem here is that all that peanut butter has already been produced and could have been eaten, but instead it’s wasted on a piece of art that will deteriorate over time and eventually be thrown away.
This brings me to my point that artists have a responsibility towards their environment just like everyone else. They shouldn’t be above that just because they happen to create art. I’m not saying that they should be censored, they should just use their common sense and ask themselves if what they create will benefit anyone other than their wallets and that of the museums.
You can watch a video about the peanut butter floor if you want to make up your own mind. After that, please let us know your take on it in the comments!