Saturday, October 15, 2022

How Not To Be An Activist

I am appalled at this effort to bring attention to the horror of the oil industry, a truly worthy focus of activism. But violating the artwork of Van Gogh who suffered to much in his life and received little financial 'benefit' from his visionary art is a contradiction in terms. 

That capitalism's art marketeering has made a mockery of his vision(s) is a terrible fact, but a work on public display that brings the hope of consideration and contemplation is worth more than a can of soup thrown over it. To say that the 'activists' and their campaign choose 'life over art' is fatuous — art is part of life, unless they are denying all culture and disrespecting all that this might entail. To say: 'Human creativity and brilliance is on show in this gallery, yet our heritage is being destroyed by our Government’s failure to act on the climate and cost of living crisis.' I might add that painting in truth has nothing to do with their government (beyond 'ownership' which is a meaningless 'quality).

'Heritage' is misused in their statement, or there is little understanding of its myriad complexities, and the photo op speaks significantly of advertising a 'moment' in itself. This 'spectacle' is not d├ętournement but an act of hype-group speak that does little to serve any cause. The t-shirts (provenance?), the posing (consider the implications of the phone and its support systems and the fossil fuels it consumes.... and the nuclear fuel!), the choice of soup (additives... did it contain any animal by-products... ? all relevant considerations), the demeaning of one of the purposes of 'human endeavour' — creativity — make this 'life' a very lopsided thing. 

Whose life? I guess their life. In all these things cause and effect have to be weighed up and the potential for hypocrisy considered. Sometimes there's no avoiding a certain amount of contradiction 'in order' to make a major and urgently necessary point, but it always needs minimising. Reduce, not maximise the hypocrisy. 

These 'activists' have 'targeted' their protest at such a tangent, the act becomes, indeed, that very spectacle without emotional or ethical resonance — it is about them, and about their campaign, and about their collective 'thinking' made into the moment. To have done the same thing against a piece of imperial propaganda, or a work celebrating capitalism and environmental destruction, would have been a very different act (at least... though, in reality, it would also be an act of violence), but instead they chose an image that represents the complexity of hope under duress, of the paradox of joy in life when the flowers are in essence dying in the vase. It's a popular and very famous image, so they went for it — buying into the capitalist promo handbook and fetishising it as product.

But in 'targeting' (a military act) one of Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' paintings, they demeaned the hope and also 'distress' the image purveys, and also the depth of its insight re the condition of human celebration and admiration of beauty: it's a picture with more questioning than is often realised. 

Activists should surely always be asking how best to reduce MY/OUR impact on the planet. In the same way that to stop the sale of a luxury car is different from stopping an ambulance, both fed with oil products (as fuel and in plastics etc.), so is being activist in the street to stop the tyranny of oil as opposed to wrecking an 'oil' painting that was not created to fuel the capitalist state and its warlike appendages. Art is part of life in all cultures, across many heritages. Social media is exhausting the world — energy that runs it comes from somewhere, people, and the hardware relies on the destruction of much of the world. Is this blog entry worth it? Maybe. Maybe not.

    John Kinsella

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