Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Story Springboards Part 1: Art Heists by Patricia McLinn

Today we have a wonderful article by Patricia McLinn on the romantic aspects of the Art Theif.  We're all fans of Remington Steele, and It Takes A Thief, and now White Collar, but what is it about these television shows that are so fascinating to Romance readers?

Oh, and if you haven't read any Patricia McLinn titles, oh please do look up her novels!  See end of her post for how to find her publications. 

-----------GUEST POST BY PATRICA McLINN ------------

            Fiction, as it turns out, is way better than fact when it comes to art heists.
            But that’s starting at the end of this blog, and I should take you back to the start, which was my offhand Tweet wondering why art heists stir the imagination. That sparked a Twitter/e-mail exchange on the topic with my esteemed blog hostess.
            From what seemed to be off the top of her head, Jacqueline listed nearly a dozen angles a fiction writer could pursue while playing in the art heist sandbox

--There's the historical importance - holding a piece of 
--There's profit - the black market fence has a client 
if you can get the painting or statue 
--There's stealing it to keep it just for yourself, 
very personal, very intimate. 
--There's maybe the thief is a reincarnation of the 
painter or the subject and just wants the thing and 
doesn't know why? 
--There's the simple thing like climbing a mountain
 -- break through their security because it's there 
(like hackers). 
--There's just hurting the owner because you don't 
like him/her/it. 
--There's striking back at the nose-in-the-air 
art-patron public because you don't like them. 
--There's "liberating" the art from the 
dog-in-the-manger owner so that posterity can 
have it (stealing from the Nazis). 
--There's keeping it from destruction in a 
shooting war (think recent events in Egypt). 
--There are all the things about Art that make 
it interesting -- and then there's the whole 
D&D board game fascination with STEALING (the 
Thief character with all sorts of sub-traits). 
--There's the whole "magical" dimension of how 
great art depicts or connects to the human 
Group Mind -- and all the voodoo that 
can be done that way.

            As a novelist, that list has me salivating.  However, I also have a background in journalism, including being an editor at the Washington Post for mumble-mumble years. As Lawrence Block said in the title of one of his wonderful books on writing, I love TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT – but I want to know when I’m telling lies. Mark Twain gave great advice: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”
            So, I started checking into why the public finds art heists romantic and alluring, and the psychology behind art heists.
            Sorry, folks, the experts agree that to the extent that the public finds art heists romantic and alluring, it’s because we don’t know the truth behind them. (Note to anyone writing an article about art theft: Cary Grant went after jewels, not art in TO CATCH A THIEF. Saw that wrong several places.)
            Former Scotland Yard detective Charles Hill is reported to have said that stealing great works is less a daring act than a sign of an unimaginative thief [[http://www.simoleonsense.com/the-psychology-of-art-thieves]], because the thief is doomed to obtaining nothing near the true value of the art.
            Yet thieves do steal art – reportedly as many as 20,000 pieces a year in Italy. [[http://www.artcrime.info/facts.htm]]  Why?
            Motivation One: USA Today [[http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-05-23-Parisartheist-motivation_N.htm]] quoted Joel Silberberg, Director of the Division of Forensic Psychiatry at Northwestern University, as saying, “If you look back historically at other pieces of stolen art, the motivation is idiosyncratic. Look at the Mona Lisa's theft — taken from The Louvre in Paris in 1911 by an Italian patriot. He resented that one of Italy's greatest pieces of art was being displayed in France. So you get individual motivation there, or a political motivation.”
            (For more on the 100th anniversary of the Mona Lisa theft earlier this year, click here. [[http://blogs.artinfo.com/secrethistoryofart/tag/kempton-bunton]].)
            Motivation Two: Said Hill: “Then there’s the trophy-hunting art thieves. They don’t make much money at all and cause themselves endless aggravation. But they enjoy doing it. It gives them a buzz.”
            Let’s call those Crackpot 1 and Crackpot 2.
            Motivation Three:  Money.  A few of the money-motivated art thieves might be stealing to fulfill an order from an unscrupulous art collector, but not many.
            Instead, according to the experts, most of the money garnered from art thefts goes to –
            And here’s where facts will forever change my view of the fiction.
             -- organized crime and terrorism.
            Yikes. Makes the crackpots look appealing by contrast. But the crackpots are in the minority when it comes to art thieves.
            According to the website of the Association for Researching into Crimes against Art (known as ARCA[[http://www.artcrime.info/facts.htm]]): “Most art crime since the 1960s is perpetrated either by, or on behalf of, international organized crime syndicates.”
            ARCA, citing information it “compiled from sources including Interpol, the FBI, Scotland Yard, Carabinieri, independent research and ARCA projects,” also says, “Art crime represents the third highest grossing criminal enterprise worldwide, behind only drugs and arms trafficking. It brings in $2-6 billion per year, most of which goes to fund international organized crime syndicates.”
            That just ground my image of the dashing art thief into dust.
            Two other areas of art theft (though not heists) that greatly concern the experts are fraud/forgeries (so the Audrey Hepburn-Peter O’Toole movie HOW TO STEAL A MILLION is practically a documentary, right?) and theft by destruction, most often perpetrated by repressive groups (think of the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamyan statues.)
            So, have the facts taken all the fun out of the fiction?
            Not, necessarily.  First, of course, there’s that whole fiction thing -- as in we make stuff up.  As fiction writers, we don’t have to adhere to the most statistically likely thing to happen.
            Also, there are some intriguing elements among the facts.
            Take ARCA.
            Among other things, it offers a blog with current art-theft news [[http://art-crime.blogspot.com/]]. (Forgive them the incorrect “it’s”.)
            There’s also the history of Noah Charney, founding director of ARCA. He says he developed an interest in art crime while researching a novel, THE ART THIEF.
            I am most interested in the field from a practical standpoint—how the academic study can help to inform contemporary law enforcement and art protection,” he says on his website[[http://www.noahcharney.com/bio.htm]]. In June 2006 he held a conference “in Cambridge entitled ‘Art Theft: History, Prevention, Detection, Solution.’  It was attended by the heads of the FBI, Scotland Yard, and Carabinieri Art squads (Vernon Rapley, and Col. Giovanni Pastore) as well as academics and art professionals with interest, if not previous experience, in the study of art crime”  and since then, he says, he has forged alliances with the law enforcement experts.
            How about pitting a Charney-esque character against a terrorist mastermind in a clock-ticking effort to protect, oh, say, a Vermeer exhibit?
            If that doesn’t get your fiction-writing juices going, how about this:
            The should-be-world-renowned Museum of Bad Art (MOBA), in Somerville, Mass., has been the victim of two art heists. 
            First, the painting Eileen was taken in 1966. According to the museum’s Wikipedia entry [[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_of_Bad_Art]], “The museum offered a reward of $6.50 for the return of Eileen,” and donors later increasing the reward to $36.73. To no avail. A decade later, someone claiming to be the thief demanded a $5,000 ransom. MOBA refused. The painting was returned.
            Despite a sign proclaiming "Warning. This gallery is protected by fake video cameras", another criminal struck in 2004, leaving a note demanding $10 for Rebecca Harris' Self Portrait as a Drainpipe.  This time, the art was returned soon after the theft … with a $10 donation.
            If these heinous crimes don’t stir your imagination, you are far too stolid a soul to be writing fiction.
~ ~ ~  

Patricia McLinn [[http://www.PatriciaMclinn.com]] is the author of 26 novels, focusing (as much as she focuses on anything) on relationships.  Many are now available as e-books at the major outlets. She encourages you to purchase those she’s indie published (without overtly urging you not to buy those from a publisher.) Her first non-fiction book – WORD WATCH: A Writer’s Guide to the Slippery, Sneaky, and Otherwise Tricky -- draws on her mumble-mumble years as an editor at the Washington Post and a lifetime of cranky reading. Her first mystery will be released in June 2012, and at that time she will encourage you to buy from that publisher.

You can follow Patricia at Twitter [[http://twitter.com/PatriciaMcLinn]] and Facebook [[https://www.facebook.com/PatriciaMcLinn]]. WORD WATCH Tweets [[http://twitter.com/WordWatchBook]] and Facebooks [[https://www.facebook.com/WordWatchTheBook]] for itself.
 ---------- END GUEST POST BY PATRICIA MCLINN -----------



  1. Terrific post. Not an art theft but an art mystery. Did you see Who The $^%# is Jackson Pollack? About a long-haul trucker (female) who bought a painting in a Calif thrift shop that some experts think is a genuine Pollack. She's a great great character & all the art world types are great, too.

  2. That sounds fascinating, Ruth. It's a documentary? I'll look for that.

  3. Great post, McPat! There's just something about an art thief that makes for great entertainment, from "The Pink Panther" to "The DaVinci Code" to all those artful dodgers in romance novels. I've created a couple of thief-heroines in my novels ... and now you've inspired me to write another one!

  4. Can't wait for your art heist story, Shelly!

    Write fast ... :-)