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Throwing stuff at art won’t save the planet

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Environmental group Stop Fracking Around says two activists splashed maple syrup on Emily Carr’s painting “Stumps and Sky,” which is on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery. (Stop Fracking Around)Stop Fracking Around

Oh no, not this again.

Trigger the very bad feelings. The shock – if not exactly surprise, by this point. The knowledge that this will not make anything better. That it could make things a lot worse.

I am not referring to Donald Trump (although this applies).

This is about Emily Carr. And Gustav Klimt, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet. And the climate catastrophe.

And how throwing stuff at art will not put a dent in saving the planet. By causing deep divisions, it is actually a damaging practice.

Last weekend, two climate activists tossed maple syrup on an Emily Carr painting at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Stumps and Sky, circa 1934, can be viewed as a lament over the commercial exploitation of old-growth forests, the gallery says in its audio-guide description.

The gallery quickly issued a condemnation of the act, almost as if a statement was ready to go.

One of the protesters, Erin Fletcher, told the CBC: “We knew that it would lead to publicity and we knew that it would be disruptive and transgressive and that that would cause a shock for people and we wanted that so that we can talk about the climate emergency.”

I have some news for any copycat vandals-with-a-cause: We are already talking about the climate emergency. There has been a lot of coverage. And these actions are only distracting from that urgent conversation. Now we have people on the same side of the issue, the right side of it, debating whether the maple syrup and mashed potatoes tactics are worthy. This is not what we should be talking about.

Civil disobedience should be appropriately targeted. Art and art galleries – including the people who show, preserve, make and love art – are not the right targets. What these well-meaning but misguided fame-seeking activists are doing is creating divisions in a world where we should all be allies against the forces that are causing the climate destruction.

What would Ms. Carr have thought of this, some have wondered? Well, she had a deep love for nature and the B.C. forests. She called the stumps she depicted “screamers.” She wrote in her journal: “These are the unsawn last bits, the cry of the tree’s heart, wrenching and tearing apart, just before she gives that sway and the dreadful groan of falling. It’s a horrible sight to see a tree felled.”

But she also worked very hard to make this picture, and gosh the thrill it would have given her to know that it hangs proudly in the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Anyway, we cannot know what Ms. Carr would have thought; there’s no point speculating. But we do know that this act against her painting and others could have consequences that will be bad for art.

Museums, worried, are surely going to put more works under glass – which is not always the best way to view art. They will consider increasing security, maybe bag checks: any guns, knives, cans of soup in your backpack?

You might be shocked to read this, but art galleries are generally not flush with money. The cost of this extra security could come at the expense of other programs. Perhaps the cost of admission will have to go up, creating a barrier of access.

Also, I can’t help but feel for the poor security guards who are on the clock when this kind of thing happens. Do they get in trouble? Are they worried about their jobs? Do they go home at night, feeling responsible?

I know, I know, many of you are thinking: What will art matter when the world is on fire? This is true. But there are more productive ways to protest. And better ways to use art to further the cause.

I watched a documentary this week, The Last Stand by Vancouver-based filmmaker Peter von Puttkamer, which premiered at the NGO International Film Festival in Nairobi last month and is now streaming on Ecoflix. It is a devastating examination of what is happening to old-growth forests, including Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island, and chronicles the B.C. protest against old-growth logging.

Some will strongly disagree with the tactics taken by these protestors. But they care deeply, putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the environment from forces they feel are endangering it. They are not throwing condiments on paintings.

There is a proper way to use art to provoke discussion about the climate disaster. This film lays it out beautifully (literally, the shots of B.C. could make you weep at the beauty that is being destroyed) and provides all kinds of food for thought.

The film ends with suggestions about what we can do as individuals. Defacing art with foodstuffs is not among them. Viewers are advised to bank with institutions that respect the Earth, support green-tech businesses, avoid crops that destroy forest ecosystems. To treasure the earth.

And, I will add, its riches. Like its art.

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Canadian public art charity marks 10-year milestone – CBC.ca

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Canadian public art charity marks 10-year milestone  CBC.ca

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Toronto questions the modernist art canon while Buffalo owns it – The Globe and Mail

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Toronto questions the modernist art canon while Buffalo owns it  The Globe and Mail

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The Art Forger Had Fooled Thousands. Then He Met Doug. – The New York Times

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The Art Forger Had Fooled Thousands. Then He Met Doug.  The New York Times

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