What's the fitting expletive when you have accidentally caused a six-inch tear to a Picasso? Somehow I doubt it was "Oops!" that sprang from the lips of the woman who fell against The Actor, a rare canvas from the painter's Rose period, in the New York Met.
As the piece was transferred to the museum's conservation studio last week, and despite the fact that the Met has declared the damage is not irreparable, there was much slavering speculation over precisely how much the hapless art lover might have knocked off its £80m value:
"It's a 50 per cent loss of the value – at least," one specialist told the New York Post, sounding a touch too gleeful. "Even a small hole and Picasso collectors like [Steven] Spielberg are not going to be interested."
Debates over the correlation (or lack thereof) between the intellectual value of an artwork and its price tag aside, the palpable schadenfreude and unexpectedly vicious accusations of "carelessness" and "irresponsibility" in comments on news sites reveal our unforgiving attitudes toward what we perceive as "clumsiness".
Generally seen as a physical symptom of stupidity, we either laugh at it (when people trip themselves up or drop their drink in their lap) or (when people manage to trip us up or drop their drink in our lap) become disproportionately outraged by it.
But everyone has at least a few small-scale Met moments in their lifetime. One of mine involved a large black coffee and a new cream coat (coat belonged to me, coffee to a fellow commuter); another was the time-honoured encounter between a glass of red wine and a pristine beige carpet (that one's on me).
Having both dished out and received my share of "Why can't you be more careful?" remonstrations, I know it's impossible to avoid the occasional slip, yet I still have a hard job stopping myself from berating someone else's lack of hand-eye co-ordination. I do now know that coats and carpets should never be cream, though.
So why do we find it so hard to accept that something which afflicts all of us occasionally, and some of us a lot? One or two incidents a day is the norm, medically speaking. Tired people are clumsier. So are anxious people and pregnant women. Dyspraxia, a co-ordination disorder that would not long ago have been dismissed and ridiculed as chronic clumsiness, affects six per cent of the population.
On that basis alone, I think it's frankly rather amazing that more of us aren't walking into Picassos and upending priceless Ming vases every day.Reuse content