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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet

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Targeting artworks

But a recent poll in Britain, where the van Gogh painting was attacked, might tell a different story.

Some 66 percent of respondents said they supported nonviolent civil disobedience to protect nature. While the survey didn’t explicitly mention throwing food, it was taken just days after the van Gogh got splashed. My first question was whether those surveyed skewed younger, since younger generations are especially, understandably, worried about the climate crisis. Yet slightly more than half of respondents were over age 45, meaning that quite a few older people said they were on board with nonviolent civil disobedience, too.

For my article, I interviewed a former AIDS activist who said the most potent forms of direct action tended to have clear connections with their targets, be they oil refineries, nuclear sites or government offices. The activists behind the soup and potato incidents told me that they felt they’d exhausted all such measures, including blocking roads to oil depots, to little effect.

“When Phoebe and I threw the soup over ‘Sunflowers,’ the main emotion that people felt, after the initial shock, was one of protection and defensiveness for such a beautiful depiction of life,” Anna Holland, one of the soup-throwers, wrote in an email. “We are asking that people feel that same protection for life itself: for real sunflowers, real people, real lives — not just the depiction of these things.”

Now, she added, “people are talking not just about what Phoebe and I did, but why we did it, which is the most important question to be asking.”

On the other side, of course, there are growing concerns about what this means for priceless art, and for museums and their security measures. Targeting, and potentially ruining, some of the most treasured creations of humankind, critics say, is an utterly misguided way of highlighting climate threats to humankind. The art critic Jerry Saltz called the protests imperious and self-righteous in a Twitter post and said they reminded him of the Taliban. “The art world needs to stand up to this,” he wrote.

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