Protest through the attack on art, primarily famous and revered historical pieces, has been very present within society, and especially present in the digital age as it is spread through media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram instantly.
The Associated Press reported the most recent incident of art violation as a form of protest that occurred in London’s National Gallery on Oct. 14. Protestors splattered canned soup onto Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” which is hung up in the galley behind glass.
The group of activists who imposed the protest were part of a British activist group known as Just Stop Oil.
According to the Associated Press, one of the men who was part of defacing the painting was wearing a Just Stop Oil T-Shirt. He shouted, “How do you feel when you see something so beautiful and priceless being apparently destroyed before your eyes? Do you feel outrage? Good. That is the feeling when you see the planet being destroyed before our very eyes.”
These examples have raised the question for many about whether it is a legitimate form of protest.
“Personally, I think it’s taken to an extreme,” said sophomore Marie Essex, “I believe that it’s our lifestyles that have negative impacts on the Earth, which we could change. However, we are not purposely trying to destroy the planet. These people are purposely destroying art to prove a point, which I do not agree with.”
According to The Associated Press, another incident occurred in London. This time, climate change protesters targeted a copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” at the Royal Academy of the Arts, gluing themselves to the painting’s frame and spray painting “no new oil” next to the painting.”
The Associated Press also reported that the metropolitan police said that three men and two women were arrested on account of criminal damage.
“It is effective to some extent in that we are having this discussion. I think the part I’m unclear about is what threatening artwork has to do with climate change,” said Nathan Lewis, Chair of Art & Design at Sacred Heart University. “Why threaten artwork, why not threaten the oil companies or those more responsible for pollution? There is something kind of punk rock about these actions, which is exciting, but artists are more like these activists impassioned by their beliefs, so it seems the targeting of artwork is misdirected.”
Some students believe that protest can be done better and differently.
“I feel that there are much better ways to protest climate change altogether,” said sophomore Connor Scaglairini. “I have seen that protest multiple times online and I honestly had no idea that they were protesting climate change. There are just so many better ways to go about it.”
According to The Associated Press, University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann said that he worries that the vandalism “alienates many people we need to bring into the fold. People who are natural allies in the climate battle but will draw negative associations with climate advocacy and activism from such acts.”
However, there are instances where protest and art can be combined, rather than as a form of attack, to create and say something important in a way that is clear and not necessarily violent.
“I am in support of some museum take-overs. I think the recent take-over of the Guggenheim by the Anonymous Artists for Iran was a beautiful undertaking that used the creation of art for social justice,” said Lewis. “No art was threatened, and art was created and displayed in an exciting and imaginative way that kept the focus on the protests in Iran and showed support for Iranian women standing up to oppression.”
The new wave of demonstrations comes as the British government opens a new licensing round for North Sea Oil and gas exploration, despite criticism from environmentalists and scientists who say the move undermines the country’s commitment to fight climate change.
“I don’t want to punish people for speaking up and challenging the status quo, or fighting for change. Artists and activists have consistently done this. I just don’t want these activists to overlook art or see it as something opposed to their mission,” said Lewis.
Edije Frangu contributed to this article.