“What is worth more, art or activism?”

Recently, two radicalized children threw tomato soup on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at London’s National Gallery. They supposedly did this to protest the continued reliance on fossil fuels. Perhaps their reasoning was that Van Gogh painted in oil, which means he too contributed to global warming in some way. Otherwise, their defining “statement” as they glued themselves to the wall beneath the famous painting explains all we need to know about them and their cause: “What is worth more, art or life?” In other words, what is more important, enjoying art or preventing the supposed human cost of climate change?

Why does the world need to choose between these two? That is, how are the two priorities related at all? More specifically, how are they in conflict in a way that is relevant to these activists’ interest in fighting manmade climate change? Are they suggesting that as long as society chooses not to comply with their wishes, people should not be allowed to have the benefit of the world’s great artworks, even to the point that such works ought to be destroyed or sullied so that, in principle, they cannot be enjoyed any longer? How very Taliban of them! (Luckily, the soup gang only dirtied the protective glass in front of the painting. Eventually, of course, these “protesters” will take their violence and violations to the next level, causing more serious and permanent damage to make their point, unless and until the alleged adults of society stand up and put a forceful stop to this childish idiocy.)

Let us carry these ponderings one step further. Regarding the choice between “art and life,” as the punks would have it, we might meet their rhetorical question with a non-rhetorical question of our own: Would life in a world in which the great artists of the past are viewed without reverence for their greatness of soul, in which their struggles, sufferings, and masterworks are cast aside or dismissed without shame or compunction, in which their world-changing contributions to the collective psyche and taste of the human race are destroyed or degraded as unworthy of protection and honor — would life in such a world, I ask, be worth living, saving, or even caring about?

To state this more directly, would you prefer a short life lived in a human world decorated with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers paintings and a thousand other such works of the imagination, or an immortal life lived among nothing but a billion “youth activists”?

To cut to the ugly chase: Do you know that you are living in the latter world today — that your society’s leading voices, its educational establishment, its most influential social thinkers and “artists,” are actively striving to create precisely such a world at this very moment, and succeeding?

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