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  • Writer's pictureGracie Dillon

Art or Life: Just Stop Oil’s Shocking Protest

Have you ever heard of the group known as Just Stop Oil? Most people, hadn’t until October 14th, when two members decided to make a shocking statement at the London National Art Gallery. The climate activist group threw tomato soup onto Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and questioned their stunned audience with the following questions: “Is it worth more than food? Worth more than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting, or the protection of our planet and people?” Many can agree that the protestors delivered their message in a quick way, but was it effective?

Thankfully, the precious artwork was protected by a glass cover and nothing was damaged, besides the ego of oil tycoons. Just Stop Oil made international headlines for this episode, with the repercussions of the public’s gaze leading to more attention than the group had ever before received. Although much of the media attention was negative, with many questioning the effectiveness of the protest and criticizing the protesters for hurting their own cause. By jeopardizing one of the most beloved works of art in the world, the group overshadowed its actual message. Their methods were effective in sending a message, however the communication of said message was lacking, leading to disapproval instead of desire for change.

There are points made for both sides of the argument, both supporting and opposing Just Stop Oil’s vandalism. If they really wanted to get the message across, why attack a beloved piece of art instead of focusing on the real villains at hand? Why not target the leaders of these damaging oil companies? By targeting a favorable piece of our culture, Just Stop Oil has attacked the people rather than the government they are trying to alter. The general public does not make impactful decisions about corporations, so why annoy them? Long story short, the protestors sent a message, but not the one that they were initially hoping for.

On a more positive note, this surprising incident has brought light to a dire situation that is often hidden by other issues in our political world. The question posed from the aftermath of the protest was, what would it have meant if we had lost Sunflowers? Such a devastating loss would spark a period of collective mourning, a unified sense of loss that no amount of urgency over the climate crisis has been able to equal. But what could the loss of one great painting mean to people who don’t exist? This shifts the focus onto : society’s willingness to dismiss the increasingly detrimental crisis that is climate change. Many believe that a reason for this might be the scope of the crisis. It’s hard to look at the real destruction climate change is already causing, and even harder to know how to make meaningful changes individually when your impact feels miniscule. That can all lead to misunderstanding and denial of the truth. Climate change is real, it’s happening, and we have to do something about it.

While there are still mixed feelings about the jarring incident against a treasured artifact, Just Stop Oil was successful in spreading their message, which has caused the topic to be brought back up for discussion.

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