‘Defaming art for a higher purpose is okay’

‘Defaming art for a higher purpose is okay’ is a statement that everyone has different views on. In the latest thank you, which is now in stores, we let two experts talk. What is their opinion?

At some point

Willa Stoutenbeek helps organizations with their sustainability strategy. She believes that we must stop seeing climate activists as the enemy.

“I understand that climate activists around the world choose striking actions such as tomato soup over one Van Gogh toss and mashed potatoes for one Monet croak. They do it to draw attention to the climate crisis, not to destroy the art. I’m certainly not advocating art destruction, but these actions have nothing to do with it. It is about the climate crisis. This is such an extensive problem that I certainly feel that the end justifies the means in this case. Especially when you look at how excruciatingly slow work is being done on a solution to the climate crisis. The time is now no longer two to twelve, but two past twelve. So time for action!”

“You can argue that climate activists would be better off targeting polluters, but they have all tried this kind of action – and it almost doesn’t help. In the UK, for example, a Shell building has recently been covered in paint, no one is talking about it. It doesn’t hurt Shell either. They hire a cleaning crew and just move on. I also find it very unfortunate that this discussion is mainly about the actions of climate activists. As if they bad guys to be? I feel that focusing the spotlight on it is also a way of avoiding confrontation with the real problem. I often see this head-in-the-sand strategy in older generations who will no longer experience the severe effects in their lifetime. It seems they are more concerned about art than the climate, while the younger generation is being awakened by the question of whether their house will soon be above sea level. It is also very easy to blame the climate activists and say that they are allegedly being ridiculous when humanity itself is treating our planet excessively.”

“Through a friend who is in contact with a number of climate activists, I have heard that the actions at museums are well thought out. For example, great care is taken to ensure that the artworks are not damaged, and it is checked in advance whether there is, for example, a glass plate in front. Whatever you think about it, apparently this way is necessary to wake everyone up. I therefore find it bizarre to see that it is precisely the climate activists who are engaged in our planet with the risk of prosecution, who are dismissed as old rubbish and criminals. While they only stand up for all of us. Rather, let’s focus our energy and anger on the government and the polluters. They are responsible for lasting change!”


Manager Catherine Brothers by Prins Bernhard Kulturfond cannot understand the actions of climate activists in museums.

“Pulling art is absolutely not a suitable way to draw attention to the climate crisis. I really don’t understand this kind of actions. Just look at the number of artists who have drawn attention to the climate crisis with their projects in recent years. Defaming art is not the way. Every time I almost have a heart attack. Like the time an activist was glued to a work from the fourteenth century Jan van Eyck and finally when you see the black liquid above the work with Gustav Klimt. Even if the climate activists claim that she proceeds cautiously by checking in advance if there is a glass plate in front; they are not experts and do not know at all what damage they are doing. This is evident from the thousands of euros in damage to the framework of the Sistine alone Madonna. Cultural institutions have enormous costs for this. Don’t saddle museums with these kinds of problems, they have it hard enough already. In addition, you have to wait for the moment when someone is not paying attention and really destroys a work of art. If the damage is irreparable, you will never get an old work back.”

“These kinds of actions can also be encouraging, according to research. You can be there copycats pull along. Think of teenagers who think they are playing a joke for a crazy challenge on TikTok or Instagram. There must be only one joker who thinks: it’s great to throw a can of tomato soup over a painting, I can do that too! And then it’s too late.”

“In the first actions, the climate activists stated that we now have to choose: art or life. While you don’t have to choose between the two to solve climate problems. Nor is it the case that billions are spent on the arts and culture sector instead of the climate. Far from. The art world is not the industry you should focus on as a climate activist. We are not the bad guys, the polluters who need to be dealt with, but we are now the ones suffering. Better do an action like at Schiphol, where climate activists have chained themselves to private planes. In this way, you not only draw attention to the climate crisis, but you also tackle the real polluters. Doesn’t it help you much more than getting the art-loving Netherlands to welcome you by polishing the cultural heritage? We must work together to tackle the climate crisis. I am convinced that the art world and climate activists can achieve something great together. Join forces!

Text: Kim Buitenhuis | Image: Emily in Paris

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