We all have our own connection to nature. Here in Oregon any time you step outside we are fortunate enough to have a breathtaking view of mountain ranges, forests, or endless valleys of golden grains. Nature untouched by man is art already, worthy of paintings and pictures. Yet there is something quite surreal when you can view nature and know that it didn’t always look like that, and we have permanently changed it for all of eternity. There’s no way to go back to how it was. There’s a pride in knowing we can change the world, but its also a haunting feeling knowing that you can never get back what you lost. Yet still favorite view on this earth is an outlook high up in the mountains, and during the day you can see for miles the untouched land sprawling out below it. Then at night the eerie glow of windmills cities away lights up the night sky with thousands of red beaming eyes. The earth is it’s own masterpiece painting, and everything we do changes it in sporadic and unknown ways.
This feeling might be what these artist are tying to bring to people, what they are tying to remind us of. We all have our own location in the world that brings us a feeling of pride for our creation but with a slight wince of unease for what it used to be. Maybe a few years ago, or maybe lifetimes ago, but our reach has change almost every location in the world in some way or another. The artists bring up these emotions in us as part of their responsibility to themselves as good artists. Allowing people to resonate and connect with their art is what an artist strives for. The real question is why do they feel the need to bring up these exact emotions. Why show us nature and the effect we have had on it. These artists obviously must feel a connection of their own to nature and are using their talents to share this feeling with others. I don’t believe that there can be an agenda behind their artwork. The paper has mild tones of whether artists either have the right to try and change someone’s else’s perspective, and if it is instead their duty to try and persuade others. I believe the artist can create what ever they want. Its not the artists job to change our thinking, its their job to get us thinking. No picture of nature can be propaganda, because everyone may look at it different.
My favorite piece of art was Nancy Holts Sun Tunnel. The tube is like the human eye, focused towards the distance at the largest mountain. Only able to see what’s in our field of view. In one way it amplifies the beauty of nature, but in another it limits what we can see. Similar to our technology. Through our science we are able to see newer and greater things, but as a results we are diminishing the parts of nature and the world that we deem mundane.
For me, I really have no problem with any sort of art that is supposed to elicit a reaction or to agitate viewers. I think that some of this art is very important and, as the reading said, can cause entire shifts in society. However when reading, the line between art and propaganda gives me some pause for thought. The idea that art can be a form of propaganda seems incredibly powerful to me but also hard to pull off, yet it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility. My opinion after thinking about the differences is that propaganda is usually more powerful, meaning it comes from a place of power. While art on the other hand, comes from literally anyone.
More on topic however, I think that art that physically transforms the environment is a double edged sword. I think that it can offer a way for the artist to make a big statement, however if the meaning misses its mark, or if it comes at the cost of the environment, it should give everyone a second thought. I also think however, that just because this form of art can have some large drawbacks, it shouldn’t be attempted. I believe that to be effective, environmental art should be done with a clear intent behind it, and to send a clear message, otherwise I feel that it can be viewed negatively. Also an interesting thing has happened: art was once done entirely on the surface of the Earth, but eventually humans moved to other mediums such as canvas or digital, but now it is almost as if some forms of art have come full circle. This form of environmental art now also uses Earth as the medium for art, it might be for different reasons, but at the end of the day, the media of the two are very similar.
At the end of the day, I believe that the art that uses the environment can be, and is, important. I also think that something also has to be done about our current climate crisis, and I think that art is something that is important in this. I think that art is used to convey strong messages. Like I stated at the start of my reflection, art can cause massive conversations within society and cause social change as a whole. As long as art continues to create conversations that challenge attitudes I think that art can help a society grow. I believe that art already does contribute to a lot of conversations around climate change, and I think that it will continue to do so and hopefully lead to the changing of minds.
Art has traditionally been one of the best mediums to communicate a wide range of ideas or issues to the general public, from oppression, to emotion, to the topic of this week’s reading, the environment, and our current ecological crisis. Brown, in his introduction to his book Art and Ecology Now dives into the history of how artists have communicated facts about their environment through their art. Our ancestors of the Paleolithic were some of the first, with their cave paintings communicating with others about integral parts of their surroundings, ranging to the remediationist artists setting out to heal the earth in our present day. Artists can have a huge effect on the subject of their art, playing a part in a large spectrum, from a town cryer, letting the people know about an issue, or an active protestor, getting their hands dirty in the field of their art. Eco-art as the text calls it is art that goes a step further, akin to only a small percentage of art; not only does this kind of art aim to evoke an emotion, it aims to evoke an emotion that puts the viewer into action. The artist wants each viewer of their piece to go into the world with a newfound worry for their environment that will be put towards ecological change.
Just because every artist can play a huge role in the ecological battle, doesn’t mean that every artist should. It is true that art is subjective, but art that aims to evoke such a specific and strong emotion should be of a high caliber; not undervalued. The art world would be filled with eco-art if every artist put their talents towards ecological advocacy, devaluing the art, and in turn, devaluing the movement. Artists have the power to cause major shifts in socio-political areas of our world, but the power that they wield should not be underestimated.
Brown, A. (2014). Art & Ecology Now. Thames & Hudson.
I have a weird relationship with art. Specifically that which exists to make a statement. I always feel that art for spectacle was made for someone else, and it very likely is. I have a hard time resonating with a lot of art, not because I can’t see it as art, or that I feel too smart or cool to acknowledge it as such, but more just because it doesn’t invoke within me the emotions I know that artist was trying to elicit. Maybe it’s for this reason that this reading was difficult for me. Environmental art is by no means necessarily a spectacle, but it does have a definite purpose for existing. The artists are trying to either raise awareness, or pressure change in the way they know how. A painter’s talent would be wasted trying to make a documentary, so I absolutely admire how they act in their own ways.
The book mentions how art has been around since the dawn of man. Art is such an integral way for humans to express themselves that there are surviving examples of it from millennia ago. Beliefs and values of long dead civilizations can be discovered through the art of the time. All of this is to say I get the deal with art. Last week’s reading mentioned how science was restricted to the upper class for a very long time, whereas technology was furthered by the lower classes. Art is somewhere in a happy balance between the two. The famous sculptures and paintings of the renaissance were all commissioned by the very wealthy. Poor people of course still made art, but comparatively little survived to the current day like the ceiling of grand churches or Greek statues. To me the most striking environmental art is that of photographs. Nothing else captures the reality of the situation we are all living in. Nothing else shows the beauty in the rays of sun beaming through the lush rainforests. And nothing else depicts the heart wrenching feeling when you see those same forests burning to make way for the thrumming heart of industry.
When creating art about the environment, artists have an opportunity to deliver powerful messages and to even cause societal shifts in perspective. When done correctly, art like this can give a visceral understanding of how humanity is impacting the world.
In my opinion, when doing art like this, the artist has a key responsibility to demonstrate how humanity is interacting with nature while not causing damage of their own. For example, the Double Negative by Michael Heizer, a deep trench displacing nearly a quarter of a million tons of rock in Nevada caused deep, permanent scarring to the landscape. Similarly, Robert Smithson’s construction of the Spiral Jetty, in 1970 in the Great Salt Lake has also permanently changed the landscape (the lake bed around the Jetty is actually exposed now due to years of severe drought in Utah, possibly delivering an even more impactful message than the original piece). These pieces seem to more strongly show humanity’s power over nature rather than showing the need to coexist with it.
The pieces that stand out most strongly to me are the ones that demonstrate what humanity has done and what we can do to return to a more sustainable way of living with nature and not powering over it. One piece from Art & Ecology Now by Andrew Brown  that stood out to me most was Alan Sonfist’s Time Landscape. This took a section of New York city and attempted to return the landscape to how it looked in per-colonial times with native plants. This juxtaposition between the city and the natural landscape from which it arose is powerful and striking to me. It demonstrates the need to coexist with the environment and not to simply impose our will upon it. Another similar piece, by Patricia Johanson, the Fair Park Lagoon in Dallas, archives a similar goal. The creation of a functioning ecosystem within the park is another powerful demonstration of what humanity must achieve globally, but done on a small scale. These artworks stood out to me because they not only call out what damage humanity is doing to the planet, but also do so without harming the environment. These pieces even hint at ways in which people can, and should, live more sustainably. They show that sustainability with the environment does not have to be all sacrifices, but it can be beautiful too.
 Judah, Hettie. “Robert Smithson Review – Art With a Dose of Extreme Sports.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Dec. 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/dec/09/robert-smithson-review-art-with-a-dose-of-extreme-sports.
 Brown, Andrew. “Introduction.” Art & Ecology Now, Thames & Hudson, New York, NY, 2014, pp. 6–15.
On the grand scale of humanity, our modern industrial world has only just begun. Our obsession with technology and advancement is only a few centuries old at most. But tens of thousands of years ago, we did not have the luxury, or the capacity, to worry about the environment and our impact on it. Ancient humans were hunter-gatherers and nomads who as they wandered the vast wilderness left behind marks of their existence on the surfaces of stone. Most of their simple yet evocative paintings were ashed away by time, but some persisted, preserved in caves as memorials to their unnamed creators. They represent the physicality of humans, of our place in the physical world. They used pigments made of natural materials, and the physical locations they painted on were used for shelter and protection from wild animals. They celebrated nature, lived in nature, and relied on nature to signify our creativity and conscience thought.
But as the centuries went on, humanity grew stronger. We adapted, we innovated, and we conquered nature despite it being an integral part of our self. Our art changed too. Placing humans within nature was less important than humanity itself. The tending of nature outpaced itself, as progress for the sake of progress became the dominant worldview. Nature was still revered, of course. Romanticism and the rise of conversationalist sentimentality continued the tradition of cherishing the natural world. But humanity was separated, distant. Materials were still taken from the earth itself, as all things are, but any sort of appreciation was directed towards the composition of art pieces. Not what specific elements were used to make them.
And now, in the modern day, as climate science improves and the gravity of what we have done to our poor earth is wholly evident, a call to return to the old ways of seeing art has emerged. Sculptors use the earth’s surface itself to tell a story, and the ways humanity has altered the environment have taken center stage. However, interestingly enough, there are also many examples where this mentality, this desire to inspire us and make us think of the planet, have very little to do with the planet at all. Abstract constructs made from cold concrete and portraits made out of grass seeds are novel and fascinating to look at, but they don’t offer anything that has not already been presented by hundreds of years of artful experimentation. As such, the question must be raised: what is art for environment’s sake? Is modern ecological art done so as a celebration of the unity between man and nature, or does it merely continue the romantic ideals of the industrial era? Hailing back to this era of art is not necessarily a bad thing, but if this is the case, why is there still a distinction? But if there is a proper recognition of humanity’s cultural connection to the environment, how best do we display it? Such questions are being explored in modern art and sculpture. But the beauty of art is not its ability to answer such questions, but to explore every avenue, and display every step in the process, in ways that can be both strange and incredibly fascinating.
Brown, Andrew. “At the Radical Edge of Life.” Art and Ecology, 2014, pp. 6-15.
Art has been used to represent and speak out about issues for decades now, and the issue of our ecological crisis isn’t left behind in this venture. As Brown exhibits in the introduction of his Art and Ecology, artists use many avenues of expression to create art. This art they make can impact those who view it on an emotional level, affecting people in ways that spouting facts and figures can’t always do. By spreading these messages on a level more accessible to the general public, artists are able to relay the facts quickly and more efficiently than scientific reports can do. Of course, the scientific data is essential, but to pass on that information in a way that can make a significant impact to those who may not have the time or desire to do their own research, artists play a vital role as the messenger. By collaborating with scientific specialists, artists can take the knowledge and turn it into a wordless message.
This use of art to broadcast data demonstrates the creativity of artists and the impact that art can really have. Art can have such an effect on people that it can cause social change, whether it be promoting fundraisers and donation efforts for specific crises or showing on a general level the issues that our Earth is going through because of human interference. By merely opening the floor for discussion, projects such as those described by Brown can lead to action in the hopes of bettering our world. Even art not meant to cause action for our environment, such as artwork from the time of westward expansion in the U.S., can cause us to reflect on the view we hold towards nature. As people take in the evidence of our destruction of the planet, art can be used as a tool to effect change in both our actions and our perception of nature in relation to man.
Brown, Andrew. “At the Radical Edge of Life.” Art and Ecology, 2014, pp. 6-15.
When reading the assigned article for this week, my mind went to a few places of times I have seen art interact with nature in a more contemporary setting. My mind flashed back to my freshman year, when I took an art class and one of the assignments was to watch and reflect upon the documentary “Wasteland”. This documentary, centered around the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, followed him as he met and created art with the workers at the largest trash dump in Rio de Janeiro. The workers are there to help find recyclable items and sort these out of the trash dump. Muniz’s work while there took the trash from the dump and made portraits of the workers on a huge scale, and photographed to be auctioned off as prints. The funds from these auctions would then go on to help the workers improve their quality of life and help to form a union. Although this does not directly interact with nature, it does show the consequence of what man has done to the earth. Waste dumps take the land and cover them with muck, and items that will not break down for thousands of years to come. I’ve attached a few of the pieces as images.
I was also reminded of another way that art and nature collide, which is in nature photography. There is a competition every year for the best photos taken of nature, and recently the winner was wildlife activist Robert Irwin for his photo of a wildfire overtaking a forest. This again shows how man has overtaken the earth, because although wildfires are ‘natural’ disasters, many are caused by man and the lasting effects of global warming have certainly had an impact on their strength and severity. (I have attached this image as well). Although these vary greatly from the images admiring nature in the past, or working with nature, I believe these pieces of art say a great deal on how the majority of the human race interacts with nature, because as a whole we have a much greater impact than as individuals.
In the article “Art and Ecology” by Andrew Brown , the author gives great insight into the power of art. Specifically, the impact of art on ecology. Artists popularize numerous important environmental issues. The thing is, as the article elaborates, is that the art’s purpose is to be viewed as “traditional” art, something to clearly look at or a form of propaganda. How much power does art have? Well first, I should elaborate on how art has been influenced by the environment.
According to the article, art has been manufactured by humanity for tens of thousands of years. They would record images of nature while using natural materials like charcoal, making the art describe a physical and visual relationship between humanity and nature(Art and Ecology). From there humanity’s relationship with nature drastically changed. Humanity began to alter nature at huge levels once the Industrial Revolution started. Still artistic depictions of nature remained, all throughout Europe and America for example paintings depicting Manifest Destiny. The Manifest Destiny art pieces depicted the new areas of the West and caused people to want to go to the West. Photography had a big impact as well. More recently, Artists have manufactured sculptures that depict nature and even discolored rivers to show the negative effects of water pollution. One art exhibition even depicted inhumane actions that happen at a catfish farm and caused massive backlash in Britain.
After going through these examples, it is clear that art has a great influence on the world. I believe art should continue to be used to showcase environmental issues. Humans use art as a tool, so I do not believe it should be limited. Art should not exclusively be just to draw beautiful images, but to have lasting impacts on the world. I cannot wait to see the new art that will change the perception of environmental issues.
An Honors Colloquium in Environmental Arts and Humanities