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Defacing art for the climate: A recipe for disaster

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

By Andrew Duval Dec. 15, 2022

Two women quickly crack open cans of tomato soup, their shirts loudly declaring “JUST STOP OIL”. Simultaneously, they throw the soup onto Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” painting, eliciting shouts and gasps from museum visitors. Pulling out tubes of glue, they slather it onto the wall next to the art and slap their hands onto the spot as spectators call for security. Shaking, one of the women indignantly shouts, “What is worth more, art or life? Is it worth more than food, more than justice?”

Kailey Hu Art

This incident, along with many others where climate activists vandalized art, garnered adverse reactions. For instance, activists glued their hands to the frame of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” on Nov 11 in Oslo. In another incident where protestors in Germany threw mashed potatoes on a painting, a protestor said, “We are in a climate catastrophe and all you are afraid of is tomato soup or mashed potatoes on a painting…[I am] afraid because science tells us that we [will not] be able to feed our families in 2050.”

In the comments of the Global News YouTube video depicting the vandalization of “Sunflowers”, netizens claimed that the defacement only gathered attention rather than helping to solve the issue at hand. Many also noted the hypocrisy of wasting food while attempting to put food scarcity under the spotlight. Furthermore, while the activists had the noble cause of trying to raise awareness, they ultimately damaged the painting’s valuable frame and if it were not for its protective case covering the painting, the painting itself would have been severely damaged.

“Throwing soup on paintings is ineffective in raising awareness, and instead garners recognition for the activists themselves. Protests are more civil and harmless than vandalization,” Sophomore Suhad Khayo said.

These activists’ tactics are an example of civil disobedience, or when protestors refuse to comply with laws as a form of protest. Although civil disobedience can be effective, incidents like these are not justified nor are they the right way to combat climate change. A stronger form of civil disobedience would be to interfere with the operations of oil companies, forcing them to make concessions to the activists’ demands in order to function. For example, activists could block the roads to the entrances of oil company facilities instead of blocking major highways and roads as many activists have done in the U.K. recently. Hindering the oil company operations fullfils the activists’ organization’s namesake: “JUST STOP OIL”, which is far more symbolic and impactful.

“There is clearly urgency in the movement, and more measures should be taken to raise awareness as the climate crisis is not being addressed adequately. Damaging valuable artwork is not a way to achieve this goal and using the superglue was excessive,” Freshman Shloka Chawla said.

72% of individuals polled by Pew Research in 17 developed countries reported that they were concerned by climate change, so damaging valuable art is unecessary to bring attention to this issue. In addition, tthe highly disapproving response to these incidents online indicates that damaging art does little other than to stoke hatred towards climate activists. However, vandalizations should not interfere with support for climate change action: CNN states that studies found that the level of support for the vandalizing protestors does not correspond to the level of support for their goals.

Currently, many countries have pledged to reduce their emissions such that there would be 2.1˚C of warming by 2100. Scientists have stated that to avoid major impacts, warming must be kept under 2˚C. But more importantly, people must find how to do so without antagonizing the rest of the population while at the same time standing out enough to make an impact. As the climate crisis worsens and action becomes more urgent, it is imperative that people spread awareness and convince lawmakers to take more action.


About the Contributors

Andrew Duval

Staff Writer

Andrew Duval is a Freshman writer for The Charger Account. He spends his spare time surfing Wikipedia, reading, and editing videos.

Kailey Hu

Art director

Kailey Hu is a senior at Leland High school and is one of the Art Directors for The Charger Account. During her free time, she likes to spend her time drawing, going on walks, sewing, reading, and crafting.

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