Oh Hello! Long time no see. I had hoped that while I was taking a small hiatus from writing that the world may have calmed down, but it would appear that we are now living in a permacrisis (oh yes I did just use the new word introduced to the English dictionary), where we all feel that we are swinging from one omnishambolic situation to another. While we are still in the wake of COVID, we now have Putin doing his all to create havoc, the cost of living crisis (as no one wants to say recession), energy cost crisis; along with politics which seems like the makings of a muppet show – who knew that 2022 could be just as bad as 2020 or 2021 but for many different reasons.
In the midst of all this madness, I scan the news and a soup related incident draws my attention, which makes me wonder why people turn to the destruction of art to get their point across. Especially when there are so many people that say they simply don’t understand art. Granted, no one ever gets noticed for defacing a piece by an unknown artist, but a sure fire way to get in the papers is to try and destroy either one of the most famous pieces of work on the planet or to take something that has cause public outrage and damage it to get a story heard. A small part of me admires the gumption of these people, but a bigger part of me despises them for using someone’s personal creation in this way.
What got me thinking about this was the recent attack on Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”. Two women entered the National gallery and proceeded to throw a tin of tomato soup over the painting before kneeling in front of it and gluing their hands to the wall. They were wearing t-shirts that said “Just stop oil”.
Let us just think about Van Gogh for a moment along with his painting of “Sunflowers”. Van Gogh was a great artist who, in his work, extolled the beauty of nature and everyday life. He was poor, he lived simply and struggled to sell his own artwork in his own life time. Between 1888 and 1889 Van Gogh created five large canvas paintings of sunflowers in vases using only three shades of yellow and a few accent colours displaying his ability to create an image using variations of a single colour and maintain the eloquence of the image. To Van Gogh sunflowers represented gratitude and friendship, as he wrote in one of his many letters to his brother, and he hung two of his sunflower paintings in the room that Paul Gauguin stayed in for a while. Gauguin was impressed with the representation and requested one as a gift which Van Gogh was reluctant to do. He created another of the canvases while Gauguin stayed with him and then created another two copies after.
Sunflowers Fourth Version
With this in mind about the paintings, I feel the attack from “Just Stop Oil” campaign was misguided. Thankfully the painting had been covered in plexiglass and the soup only caused minor damage to the frame, but it does make me wonder why the two women chose this painting to ask what is more important art or life? While I would very much think Van Gogh would say life was more important because of the beauty he saw in it, life and art is very much entwined – it is a form of communication, a documentation of history and anthology of what has come before us, so to deface art in the name of a campaign against oil seems to go against the point they are trying to make. Why not glue themselves to an Esso truck or graffiti an oil tanker? Also – what a waste of soup! There are people at the moment living on the poverty line, relying on food banks and struggling to make ends meet, so again this discredits their campaign by wantanly wasting food.
This of course, is not the first campaign to use art in the midst of a protest to get attention, at around the same time German protesters threw mashed potato at Monet’s “Les Meules” (Haystacks). This painting once sold for $110 Million and the protesters question was will this painting be worth anything if we have to fight over food. Once again it was aimed at a painter who showed the virtues of the natural world and created gardens to preserve the sanctity of nature. In my opinion another misguided attack where the food could have been put to better use and the protesters could have done something much more worthy with their time.
Thankfully, once again the painting was undamaged, but there have been many attacks on art from people with a grudge to those who simply either dislike the piece or feel so moved by its nature that they feel they must act, but all of these acts are misguided. Art is created by an artist to their own taste and creativity. It is not there for people to use in a political or personal tirade.
We all understand that there needs to be change in the world to equalise the balance, but while individually we are making changes to our everyday lives – we now all mostly recycle, we think about the modes of transport we take and choose products with less packaging, give to food banks and try to purchase what we can which is fair trade, these are not the changes that need to happen. The changes that desperately need to happen are within big corporations and companies who are still reliant on outdated technologies and processes which impact the environment around us, and attacking famous art in order to get seen in the newspapers is not the way to do that. Meaningful and considerate action needs to be taken. Not something that is impacting people who have a day off and want to look at paintings to take their mind off of all the troubles that are across the globe currently.
Change is a hard thing to master – we as a species actually are quite happy not to change until such times that something seemingly better comes along, so until companies and corporations can provide a stable fuel source or food that is not expensive and not filled with chemicals, individuals will not want to move to the options that they are provided.
This takes me back to my opening gambit, of how I admire the gumption of these protesters, as they are trying to bring awareness to the masses, but they are going the wrong way about it. It would be far wiser to impact company profits through protest rather than damage what is essentially pubic property.
What do you think of the use of art in protesters action? Let me know in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?