Opinion: Not The Art!

An Opinion on Current Art Vandalising

The art world has recently seen two shock attempts at vandalising of significant works. First, it was Pablo Picasso’s ‘Massacre in Korea’ at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, Australia. This was done through Extinction Rebellion members supergluing their hands to the piece. The second was tomato soup being thrown at Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers in a Vase’ at the National Gallery in London, United Kingdom, by Just Stop Oil. This followed with the people explain why they did this and to stop using oil.

Both paintings were unharmed, thanks to glass protecting them. What these attacks on some of modern western art’s most well-known artists has done though, in my opinion, is more damage than good. Although they were unharmed, it is reckless and harmful to the arts themselves. It’s also damaging to the ideas these groups are trying to deliver to the wider public.

The following is an opinion based off these recent attacks. I will be using what I’ve discovered about these groups, what I’ve read in the past and my own love of the arts to form this opinion. You’re more than welcome to agree or disagree, just remember to not directly attack someone.

It’s Really a Good Cause

I will start right off the bat by saying I agree with the ideas these protesters are conveying. I do believe we are in a climate emergency and we need to shift away from fossil fuels as a resource. What these people are doing too is brave and getting attention drawn to them. However, there are some considerations to this.

First, climate change is a part of the history of the Earth. It has been happening for billions of years, and has been recorded by humanity for just as long. However, that’s not to say a lot of contemporary climate change hasn’t been caused by humans. Our use of fossil fuels and deforestation has sped up the natural process. Pollution from cars and oil spills hasn’t done much either to help.

Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, an artwork recently vandalised in London

The move away from oil, in my opinion, is something the world should be doing. We have built our modern society to be almost solely dependent on it. From our sprawling suburbs to air travel, our dependence on oil has reached a point that if it were cut off, it would be fatal. It’s very much like spice from the Dune series. Spice withdrawal is fatal and threatens to destroy the empire of the Dune universe, much like oil withdrawal for contemporary civilisation.

I discovered a lot of these ideas from books like Peter Seamer’s Breaking Point: The Future of Australian Cities and YouTubers like City Beautiful and Not Just Bikes. These three places especially talk about the issue of car dependency, which is linked to the dependency on oil and many other issues. I recommend you check them out.

Vandalising Art is Bad for Everyone

While I do agree with Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil’s ideas, I don’t approve on them vandalising well-known artworks. Supergluing themselves to or throwing tomato soup at these works does little in the way but just give a newsworthy spectacle. This action is what I’ve found mainstream media, especially in Australia, focuses on more than the reasons as to why.

Australia’s media is known for being extremely biased, becoming worse in recent times. Australian mainstream media especially have also been very critical on climate change, some outlets downright denying its existence. I say this as I witnessed the coverage these outlets were giving of it, being an Australian myself. Events like this only leads to harmful stereotypes and negative comments from government officials. And in a time we need to unite, acts like these are not helping.

Picasso’s ‘Massacre in Korea’, another well-known piece of art recently vandalised in Melbourne.

This senseless attack is also part of one of my greatest fears: the destruction of art. History has proven time again that the vandalising or destruction of art is bad for society. The vandalising of Van Gogh and Picasso also reminds me heavily of the plot of Ray Bradbury’s short story ‘The Smile’. In this story, a crowd has gathered to participate in the destruction of Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ as part of their fear and hatred of art and creativity. It is damaging to see such vandalising happen, especially in two nations that pride on being ‘Highly Developed’. It is a step backwards through art vandalising and destruction than a step forward.

Perhaps the part I’m most frightened of is that acts like this will negatively impact public art galleries. With attacks like this happening, including the one on the copy of Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ in July, few might be willing to let their art be showcased on a public stage. Public art galleries might even be that turned off by the idea that they could take these paintings back to the archives. Having that happen would be devastating on the art world and take away the experience of experiencing art in real life. And that’s the experience I’m most scared would be lost thanks to these attacks.

Just Dada It Instead

Rather than vandalising artwork, people from these organisations should rather be making art themselves. They should take the ideas of the past and bring them to a modern setting.

One of these ways they could do this is through Dadaism. Popular just after the end of the First World War, was the original ‘fuck you’ art movement. It essentially took what we thought was art and turned it on its head. This art movement was also known for taking some of art’s masterpieces and, in a way, vandalised them. One of these is Marcel Duchamp’s ‘L.H.O.O.Q’, which makes a mockery of Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’.

Duchamp’s ‘L.H.O.O.Q.’, an example of Dadaism

If Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil want to make more of an impact, they should just Dada it with these artworks. I feel this will make more of an impact and get people more on their side, rather than divide people’s opinions. Using art to defy art is one of the reasons why I love the subject so much and I openly encourage, rather than attempt to destroy it.

Image Sources

Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’: https://iiif.micr.io/TZCqF/full/1280,/0/default.jpg

Duchamp’s ‘L.H.O.O.Q.’: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/74/Marcel_Duchamp%2C_1919%2C_L.H.O.O.Q.jpg

Picasso’s ‘Massacre in Korea’: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/pablo-picasso-massacre-in-korea-1

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