, 08.31.2023 05:56 AM

My latest: terrorist is as terrorist does

Punish him. Make it hurt.

When this writer — an aspiring painter — heard that someone had thrown paint on Tom Thomson’s masterpiece Northern River, I was very angry.

It happened this week. A man came to the National Gallery in Ottawa and smeared pink paint across the front of it. He was a member of an “environmental” group called On2Ottawa, reports said. After he defaced Thomson’s work, he glued himself to the floor.

A “climate activist,” some media called him. A “terrorist,” others might call him.

I come from a family of artists, you see. “Art is the greatest form of hope,” the British artist Banksy once said, and it’s true. To deface Thomson’s painting — which took two years to complete and is considered one of the greatest works of art ever produced in this country — was to deface hope itself.

My initial reaction, I confess, was that someone should break the fingers and arms of the paint-thrower, so that they can never do it again. I was that angry.

But, no. That’s extreme. That’s the kind of thing the Taliban does, isn’t it? Ironically, the paint-throwers share quite a bit in common with the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic terrorist group that now rules over Afghanistan. They try to murder art, too.

The Taliban burn books, prohibit music and — infamously — kill works of art. Upon seizing power in the 1990s, the Taliban systematically and efficiently destroyed thousands of works of art at the Afghan National Museum and elsewhere because they were “un-Islamic.”

In all, 70% of the museum’s artifacts — some 100,000 individual works — were destroyed by the Taliban. In 2001, they obliterated the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan because they were considered un-Islamic and blasphemous. The statues were more than a 1,000 years old.

The destruction of art — the extermination of art — was not something invented by the Taliban, however. Over the centuries, it has happened many times.

Acid thrown onto a Rembrandt by a mentally ill man in Russia. A Velazquez ripped to shreds by a British feminist who later embraced fascism. A shotgun blast fired into a Da Vinci depicting The Virgin and Child in London’s National Gallery.

And, of course, fascists and extremists often target art first. The Nazis destroyed thousands of works of art by cubists, expressionists and impressionists in Germany and France — because they considered them “degenerate.”

So this week’s attack on Thomson’s masterwork is not without precedent. (It was not permanent, either; glass protected it from permanent damage.) Lunatics and monsters are always using beautiful works of art to make a political statement.

And Thomson’s Northern River is unquestionably beautiful. It is extraordinary.

Our greatest artist worked on it on a large canvas — unusual for him — over two years in 1914 and 1915. It depicts thin, dark trees reaching for a Canadian sky, some water glinting in the background. It is a scene that every Canadian has seen or should. It has been described as perfect. It may not be that, but it certainly seems like a perfect rendering of the Canadian wilderness.

It’s not known where Thomson saw what would later become Northern River. Algonquin Park formed the subject matter of many of his masterpieces, of course, but a friend of Thomson’s later said it wasn’t a scene from there. So it could be anywhere in Canada, really.

Why would anyone want to destroy something like that? Why attack beauty? Why would they smear paint on it?

On their website, On2Ottawa says that they are prepared to break laws because “the state is acting immorally.”

Maybe. Perhaps. But the ones who try to destroy art that depicts the very environment that On2Ottawa claims to be concerned about?

They’re the ones who were the most immoral this week.


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    Wink Dinkerson says:

    One mans art is another mans oppression. Maybe they should tear down some statues and we can feel better about it. We allowed idiots to make the rules and now we are pissed off that we are losing the game. (I have an A. Y. Jackson titled Indian Village in my collection) It’s under glass due to the triggering subject matter.

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    Peter says:

    Gorgeous work of art.

    Ahh yes, the SELF APPOINTED arbiters. Bring out the glue and paint! Destroy something valuable, and cherished by society.

    As is typically the case, people who have contributed nothing to society (including taxes) with an axe to grind, shoot themselves directly in the foot.

    Had extinction rebellion “activists” block traffic several times to protest Carbon emissions here in Van. Which resulted in………………. Carbon emissions!

    Hypocritical Simpletons.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I imagine this comes under the Criminal Code. I hope it’s possible for a judge to give him a year in jail.

    And Thank God for glass. I remember many years ago going to Montreal with my Mom to see several Renoirs, not behind glass. It was an overwhelming experience. What incredible beauty. Those flowers!

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    Curious V says:

    One of the biggest tragedies is the destruction of art, and historic artifacts, some dating back thousands of years, for political ideology. I care about the environment, like everybody should, but I don’t care for the folks who defile famous art to make a point – defile something else and leave the art galleries’ and museums alone.

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    joe long says:

    Did this person actually destroy art?

    No, in reality, all they did was put some paint on a piece of glass.

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      Martin Dixon says:

      What’s your point, exactly?

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        Ronald O'Dowd says:


        I think Joe is arguing that the painting wasn’t damaged in the end. I prefer prosecution based on actual intent which was to damage it. Can seeping occur through glass? No idea.

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          Martin Dixon says:

          Ronald, I understand what he was saying but that is a distinction without a difference. It was still vandalism. If someone threw eggs at your windows on Halloween, does the fact that it can be easily cleaned up make it ok?

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        joe long says:

        My basic point is simple: the painting wasn’t damaged or destroyed.

        His lawyer will presumably make the same point when (or if ) he goes to court.

        We may agree that he should not have put paint on the glass.

        However, do we now live in a society that seems to have a growing acceptance of property destruction if the cause is’just’? For example:
        – beheading or toppling of statues
        – burning churches (“understandable” according to Gerry Butts)
        – “fiery but mostly peaceful protests” reported by CNN

        The climate protesters clamour for attention to their cause by splattering paint on famous paintings (which are protected by glass). They view their cause as just. If the respondents to Mr. Kinsella’s column are advocating universal condemnation and tougher penalties for these acts, well, I agree. In fact I would encourage all to demand condemnation and tougher penalties for ALL such acts.

        And for those who think climate change is a problem; please stop driving and take public transit. Certainly don’t be like the Last Generation activists who protested the use of oil and then flew to Thailand!

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          Martin Dixon says:

          Then, of course, we agree. See my post below about Joseph Brant.

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    EsterHazyWasALoser says:

    The disgraceful act of wanton vandalism has nothing to do with combatting climate change. It has to do with the actions of a criminal mediocrity who by defacing something beautiful, indicates to the world his (or her) smirking petulance at gaining notoriety.
    Here is an example of how to deal with them:

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      Martin Dixon says:


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      Steve T says:

      I love it.

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    Steve T says:

    Those who commit these acts of vandalism are the same idiots who tear down statues, and the same idiots who blockade public roads and railways.

    Overall, they are petulant whiners who throw temper-tantrums when it becomes evident that the majority of society doesn’t support their views – and they don’t like the idea of democracy sorting out who gets their way. So they throw a fit, like little children.

    Want to peacefully protest? Go hold a sign on Parliament Hill. Don’t get your way after that? Hmmm… maybe take the hint that people don’t support you.

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    Curious V says:

    I understand that due to generational trauma, sometimes taking down a statue of a prominent person who committed atrocities, like owning slaves, or subjecting indigenous people to horrible conditions and abuse, well it’s a primary instinct. My view of this isn’t straight forward. To me, no matter what they’ve done they are part of history, and we can’t change that. I’m not necessarily in favor of taking statues down, but they should be expanded to put their place in history in context. Surround monuments with context so we can put these people in the appropriate historical place. Celebrating villains from our past as heroes isn’t appropriate – we have to surround their statues with yet more monuments and plaques that offer breadth of perspective that also highlights the cruelty they engaged in.

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      Martin Dixon says:

      Brantford, Brant County and Brant Ave within the city are all named after a slave owner but I guess he gets a pass and a statue because he is indigenous. Meanwhile, we are tearing the rest down.


      People’s mileage on this issue clearly varies.

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      Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Curious V,

      In my book, it’s all about gradation: for example, not a single Confederate statue should remain in National Statuary Hall in D.C. And yet less than ten are still there. What an obscenity.

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        Curious V says:

        I agree Ronald. Well said.

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    Robert Bernier says:


    One day soon, the image of the earnest, articulate young man gingerly applying washable pink paint to the glass covering a beloved and undeniably beautiful painting is going to seem very quaint. Soon, countless art objects will be lost to fire and flood and neglect. Soon, looting and mindless vandalism will be commonplace as everything collapses around us in a chain of unimaginable environmental catastrophes bring us to our knees. Then, those of us still alive might remember the time when the ritualistic threat to an icon representation of nature could summon intense emotional outrage while, in the face of the very real existential threat to nature itself, so many remained essentially detached and unresponsive.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:

    In this country, I’m far less inclined to give Macdonald and other PMs a pass on residential schools. So, in such instances, the various First Nations have my unqualified support for removal and even destruction in the most serious and brazen cases.

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      Martin Dixon says:

      Ronald-what is your view on the very inconvenient Joseph Brant?

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        Ronald O'Dowd says:


        Normally, I would default to the will of local First Nations but in this instance as a proven slave owner, I’m in a Berlin to Kitchener frame of mind. No truck nor quarter for slave owners. But I won’t get my way generally speaking: see Washington, Jefferson and ten other American presidents.

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          Martin Dixon says:

          Ronald, the US has a LOT of work to do. The Russell Senate Office Building is named after a white supremacist that was functioning as same right up until 1971. People should read Caro’s 3300 page plus not quite finished 4 book series on LBJ. Russell was a disgusting individual.If they won’t take the simple necessary step of cancelling him, they sure won’t touch any presidents. Bilkszto was right on the relative merits of the two countries on racism and hopefully Kike Ojo-Thompson will be held accountable for her actions.

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