Climate change must van Gogh: climate activists use food and famous paintings to protest

by Akshara Panchumarthi (’26) | November 18, 2022

Art by Vanessa Ko (’24)

Recently, the treatment of famous artists’ masterpieces, some of which took years to create, has been making headlines. Climate change activists have resorted to extreme measures in order to gain much needed attention to their cause. Throwing tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers and mashed potatoes at Claude Monet’s Haystacks, then gluing their hands to the wall, seems to be doing the trick. 

Art is meant to express the creator’s truth, no matter the medium. Throughout history, art has been used to add new perspective to controversial issues in order to change the audience’s stance, whether it be in a more positive or negative light. Splashing food on prominent work is a way to showcase the frustration of climate change activists and the immediate need for action. Rather than creating their own pieces, they are using those of the “greats” to gain the attention they have worked towards for years. 

Compared to most other protests, the acts against the masterpieces were more spontaneous and received more media attention. As environmental studies professor Max Boykoff says in an NPR interview, “If you can be creative, if you can add even an element of levity that helps draw people in, that resonates in the information-rich society that we’re in right now.”  Many people have heard about these events due to the high-profile nature of the art that was targeted and the actions that were taken. However, some of these actions have been perceived as too radical for the goals that they are trying to achieve.

Even though we see large quantities of food on the defaced photo frames, none of the food damaged the artwork. Nevertheless, some are outraged that climate advocates have even turned to such drastic measures. Many believe that such masterpieces deserve to be protected and should not be defaced, even for activism. Others think that even though this incident was all over the internet for a few days, it still is not enough to change the views of the general public.

The timing of these protests does not seem like a coincidence, since they occurred just a month before the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The world is waiting to see if these more drastic climate reform protests will have a greater impact in the fight against climate change.

Despite the seemingly harmful actions of those throwing food at van Gogh and Monet paintings, some consider such actions as a benign tool helping climate advocates express their concern for our planet and creatively impacting people. According to this view, the art has been given a new purpose as a discussion starter, leaving people thinking about it in a new way.

Categories: Entertainment

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