What is the best way to draw the world’s attention to an Environmental cause? Over the past year, we have seen over two dozen famous works of art being targeted by groups of climate activists in an attempt to bring commotion to their causes. These groups resorted to tactics such as throwing food or even attaching themselves to paintings by Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Van Gogh. Even though they were pretty successful at drawing the media’s attention, the repercussions of these acts have not only been criticized but also labeled as vandalism.
While many argue that the attacks over the past year had criminal aspects, it’s important to note that the works of art targeted by the activists shared a common feature beyond their fame: they were all protected by glass panels or coverings. That being said, the activists never really intended to damage the art, but rather to cause commotion in some of the most crowded and prestigious art galleries and museums around the world. Of course, if an original piece by Leonardo Da Vinci had been directly attacked, we would have heard of arrest orders and official vandalism convictions, which was not the case.
Still, can we say that the activists achieved their goal by causing such an uproar? No. Levent Kurnaz, professor at Bogazici University’s Center for Climate Change and Policy Studies said: “I think that such actions create antipathy in (people’s) minds rather than sympathy.” It has also been argued that these actions undermine the efforts to make museums and galleries more accessible to all, as well as the educational efforts to encourage critical thought about art and historical artifacts. Moreover, by praising one cause and somehow diminishing others, the organizations behind the attacks are not being taken as seriously as they probably thought they would.
However, these young adults didn’t merely target famous artworks to get their organizations’ names on Television: after throwing tomato sauce in one of Van Gogh’s most popular paintings, Sunflowers, an activist asked: “What is worth more? Art or Life?”. The promotion of this debate has been the main goal behind these acts, but it has certainly started discussions on a range of different topics, taking away the public’s focus on the main message about climate change.
If the sole aim was to capture the world’s attention, the activists would have succeeded. Yet, this is not how it works when dealing with large-scale problems. The negative repercussions have certainly caused some antipathy towards these non-profits, and very few people will respond to these acts by taking climate change more seriously.
So the answer is no, attacking art is not the solution to climate change, and it never will be. These acts might not only encourage others to do the same, but they also take away the focus from the real matter. Still, one thing that we did learn from these protests is that youth deserves and has to be heard. Can we truly blame them for bringing attention to serious, global problems? The medium they chose to do so may have been improper, but it only comes to show how we need to provide safe spaces for youth to express themselves and their concerns immediately.
Writer: Sarah Tavares
ENTER International was not the creator of the image above. The purpose of these AI generated photos are purely educational. Thanks to Microsoft Bing.
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La Garza, Alejandro. “Why Climate Protesters Are Throwing Food at Art”. Time, Oct 25, 2022 https://time.com/6224760/climate-activists-throw-food-at-art/ (last accessed October 14, 2023)
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