The word “senseless” is often thrown around when a crime or other atrocity happens. Frequently, I feel that this word is used when it is not appropriate. The word “senseless” shouldn’t be used merely to convey how horrible a crime is; it should be used only in cases where the crime actually makes no sense. Most of the time, no matter how horrific the crime is, the perpetrator has some kind of reasoning behind their act, which may very well be wrong but does make at least some sense from the perpetrator’s perspective.
But here’s a case where the word “senseless” applies perfectly:
Today two protesters from the organization “Just Stop Oil” threw tomato soup all over the painting “Sunflowers” by Vincent Van Gogh at the National Gallery in London. According to Yahoo News, the protesters’ cause is to get the British government to stop all new oil and gas projects.
“Is art worth more than life? More than food? More than justice?” the organization tweeted. “The cost of living crisis and climate crisis is driven by oil and gas.”
While being arrested, one of the protesters echoed these sentiments. “Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?” she asked officers.
These actions, and the sentiments accompanying them, are wrong in numerous ways.
First of all, what the heck does attacking a painting have to do with protecting the environment? What does attacking a painting have to do with the cost of living crisis or the climate crisis or oil or gas? Nothing. I don’t understand why protesters would choose to attack a painting to make a point about the climate crisis. The painting didn’t cause the climate crisis; nor did its creator; nor did the museum. None of the things that the organization is protesting against are the painting’s fault, so I don’t get why they chose the painting as the target of their destructive actions.
I also take issue with the protesters’ presumption that they have the right to judge how much art is worth, or how worthy it is of protection. The painting does not belong to them; it is not theirs to dispose of, to attack, or to destroy.
More fundamentally, I am sick and tired of this attitude that art is unimportant. Life and food and protecting the planet and people are certainly more practical than art. I would even admit that these things are more important than art in a utilitarian sense. But utility and practicality are not the only things that matter. Art is of crucial importance, not for living in and of itself, but for having a life that is worth living. Art is beauty; art is magnificence; art is joy. Without anything beautiful, magnificent, or joyful in the world, we might still have a planet filled with living people who all have enough to eat, but there would really be no point in having these things, because life would not be worth living. If having a life that is worth living is important, then art is absolutely important, and art is absolutely worthy of protecting.
Fortunately, the Sunflowers painting was covered by glass and not actually damaged. Also fortunately, the two protesters were arrested and charged with criminal damage and aggravated trespass.
I see similarities between this situation and the despicable genocide of statues that has taken place over the past few years. There are even parallels between Just Stop Oil’s statements and Richmond, Virginia Mayor Levar Stoney’s grotesque claim that it was somehow an improvement to remove the magnificent Confederate statues that gave his city its identity and instead spend more money on education. The fact that someone would consider increased spending on a basic municipal function to be an adequate replacement for breathtakingly beautiful, awe-inspiring public art is as hideously soulless as it is appallingly morally bankrupt.
For some reason, many protesters have decided that attacking irreplaceable works of art is a good way of advancing their cause. As someone who loves art, I find these actions incredibly upsetting, angering, and disturbing. It is incomprehensible and bizarre that so many people demonstrate such apparent hatred of paintings and statues. This war on art is truly senseless.