Activists of Just Stop Oil after throwing tomato soup on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London, October 14, 2022 (Photo: Getty Images)
THIS WEEK, AS PART of an ongoing trend, climate activists flung mashed potatoes at a Monet painting in Germany. Earlier, Van Gogh, too, had suffered a similar fate when soup was thrown on his iconic work, Sunflowers, in the UK by a group called “Just Stop Oil”. Even the Mona Lisa in France has not been spared from such vandalism when cake was smeared on her. All of this is happening in Europe where the governments themselves were completely sold on combating the evils of climate change by weaning off polluting fuels until, of course, Vladmir Putin turned the tap, and now saving the world has been replaced by trying to get the heater working in winter, no matter what the fossil. It is a mirror to the face of first world hypocrisy that has for a long time been forcing other nations to be better earthlings. Governments run by politicians however only cater to what the people themselves feel. The art attacks demonstrate that while most human beings are as self-serving as they always have been, activists are woven from a different thread.
It does not however follow that the thread is worthy of admiration. For there are telling insights that we get of activist psychology from these recent events. One, that they are juvenile when it comes to the ends they seek. The art they vandalise has nothing to do with the ruin that they claim is imminent. A Monet painting does not increase the carbon footprint even by a nanometre. The sole reason it is targeted is not because of its inherent evil but because it is held in such regard; its value is incomprehensible to those who are blind to any form of beauty. In destroying such beauty, climate activists desire attention. This is the mind of the fundamentalist where any action is legitimate so long as the larger good is in sight, an idea that has been long tested by mankind and rejected at about every civilising turn. What, after all, separates such activism, from the Taliban destroying the Buddhas of Bamiyan?
What you also gather from such vandalism is the belief that underlies it; that art is an optional necessity for humans. That is not true either, otherwise cavemen wouldn’t have been drawing on the walls in the dark. To be angry at the appreciation of art because there are greater causes in the world is the remit of narrow minds. And if you want one more reason for why art is necessary, it is because such pettiness is exposed by it. The mindset of the activist is very useful when the enemies railed against them are powerful and evil, as when they challenge dictators despite the certainty of enormous toll. It is why activism, despite its nearsightedness, became important in society. Only fundamentalists can stand their ground when the majority cave in. But when this mentality is taken to issues that few disagree with, and whose dangers are far into the future, then it is like a bunch of bored children who want something to be angry about so that the adults would take them seriously.