History May Absolve the Soup Throwers

Written By Andreas Malm, Published by The New York Times

Just Stop Oil, via Associated Press

Vincent van Gogh is not responsible for our climate breakdown. He was not the C.E.O. of an oil and gas company or a coal merchant. In fact, van Gogh started drawing and painting while living amid the smoke and cinder in a Belgian coal district. Besides “Sunflowers,” one of his most famous paintings is “Miners’ Wives Carrying Sacks of Coal,” their bodies bent under the weight of the bags; art history knows few works that so powerfully capture the fossil economy’s intolerable burden on the living.

So my initial reaction to the news that two activists from the group Just Stop Oil had tossed tomato soup on “Sunflowers” at the National Gallery in London was: Oh, no, not another attack on some object with no causal relation to the climate emergency, something innocent and beautiful.