Dear Just Stop Oil, Just Stop Ambushing Artworks

Van Gogh, had he been alive, living in the moral complexities of the 21st century, would have found himself in an incoherent spiral of irony and beauty.

Raj Ajay Pandya
3 min readOct 30, 2022
UK climate activists after throwing tomato soup at Van Gogh’s painting in London. Photo Credits: DW

Two things can exist at the same time. It’s not binary — you can respect art in the world that is struggling to breathe, and you can respect the earth and fight against the big corporations responsible for climate change.

Phoebe Plummer, 21, a climate activist working with Just Stop Oil organisation, along with Anna Holland, 20, threw tomato soup on a glass-covered painting by Van Gogh in London’s National Gallery. The organisation’s website has proudly pinned the video on their website, captioning: The Van Gogh painting was behind glass and remains unharmed.

The attack was followed by mixed reactions from artists, activists and artist-activists. However, the attack on the National Gallery was just a start. Just Stop Oil has since covered King Charles’ wax statue with a cake and glued their heads to glass covering Johannes Vermeer’s celebrated ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’.

I understand that the assault on the wax statue is killing two birds with one stone. But, the artworks need to be spared, even though the glasses protect the inner linings of the paintings.

Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece Girl with a Pearl Earring. Photo Credits: ITV

On a neutral plane, keeping aside their museum episodes, Just Stop Oil makes a solid case for environment preservation by demanding zero new oil projects. UK’s oil dependency is increasing every fiscal year, producing greenhouse emissions, which contribute to a larger carbon footprint. Yes, the climate is changing, and the collective effort of governments around the world should be carried out immediately, but the art world needs to stay intact. The paintings need to be preserved from the hard-boiled teenage activists, who, despite having the right heart, are marring the history of art.

Van Gogh admired nature; his phenomenal work is proof of the way he saw the world. Nevertheless, he would have questioned the government to preserve his muse. If there was nothing left to be painted, then there’s no point to art itself. However, if he were alive today, living in the moral complexities of the 21st century, he would have found himself in an incoherent spiral of irony and beauty — the same way many artists have been feeling in the wake of these attacks.

Van Gogh’s Starry Night at an art immersive exhibition.

“It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to, the feeling for the things themselves, for reality is more important than the feeling for pictures,” wrote Vincent Van Gogh, which is contrary to what I, along with all art lovers as well as climate change believers, are saying. Still, there are several other ways to draw attention than attacking a priceless painting.

These activists would have used air-conditioners all summer, would have eaten meat, and taken flights around the globe — everything worth several points in the carbon emissions. All these climatic flaws in their case would have been overseen had they chosen the right way to protest.

Nature and culture are part of the human consciousness, and both can be protected at the same time. This is not a question of either/or. Both are intertwined and tied with one another. It’s only a matter of time before these protests lose their value, remaining just in headlines and Twitter bashing without doing anything significant to the environment.



Raj Ajay Pandya

Writer | Journalist Instagram: @rajajaypandya Twitter: @RajAjayPandya