THE SOUP GIRLS AND THE VAN GOGH


The two girls who threw soup at Sunflowers in the National Gallery certainly got publicity for ‘Just Stop Oil’ but not much support. Good causes often lose sympathy when they turn to vandalism or civil disobedience. In the 1960s the Ban The Bomb movement had sizable support but it declined after the anti-bomb campaigners started sitting down on airport runways.

There were some good jokes about the National Gallery demo: Are ‘Just Stop Oil’ advocates of gouache? Why didn’t they use Campbell’s soup? But their serious point, that life is more important than art, doesn’t stand up for long.

The demo illustrated the Politician’s Syllogism: Something urgent needs to be done. Throwing soup at a Van Gogh is doing something urgent. Therefore throwing soup at a Van Gogh needs to be done.

There’s no dichotomy between art and life. Art is as old as life and life without art isn’t worth living. The Altamira cave paintings are 36,000 years old. I think that’s why there’s been such a pushback against this demo.

As to the soup girls, they lacked the courage of their convictions, unlike Vladimir Umanets, who vandalised a Rothko in 2012. They chose a painting covered in glass because unlike him they didn’t want to go to jail.

ALBRECHT DÜRER (1)

I was surprised to find the Dürer exhibition at the National Gallery so crowded. His engravings have to be looked at closely and you have to queue at each one. Who would have thought that an Old Master of five hundred years ago would be so popular? But most of the visitors had grey hair. Will there be a public for this kind of art in thirty years time? Art that’s based on the highest standards of craft and draughtsmanship? Art that’s not radical, original or innovative? Art that’s not critical, challenging or addressing problematic themes? There may not be.