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November 22, 2013

The role of art in environmental awareness

Could it be that our failure to tackle environmental concerns is not a result a shortage of information but rather our inability to imagine?

After a recent showing of animal portraits, viewer’s perceptions of how they felt when looking at the animals were analyzed.  Without any kind of accompanying messages or words, 90% of the viewers spontaneously commented about our need to change to sustainable lifestyles to conserve the animals.

environmental art
 

After the Chaos by Bob Verschueren – Spruce and ash trees Arte Sella, Malga Costa, Italy, 2010
 

Subjecting individuals to an emotional experience and allowing them to make their own interpretation is very different from subjecting people to facts and using rational arguments to tell them how they should think.   Improvement of our environment will not be accomplished via spreadsheets and technology.  It requires us reimagining how we live, produce and conduct business.

Art has a unique ability to help people envision new and innovative ways to safeguard the environment.   The Great Lakes and the Chicago River are targets of invasive species.  The Chicago office of the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) presented a technical paper discussing recommendations for handling the invasive species in these waterways.  Because of the complexity of the data readers did not get enthused about the presented solutions.

The Council decided to try a different approach.  They asked architect Jeanne Gang to illustrate theirwhite paper through design.  Gang and her students conceived 10 designs for the future of the Chicago River.  The compilation of the plans and drawings were published in a book titled Reverse Effects Renewing Chicago’s Waterways.  Once people could envision the changes they became more involved.

Artist Lisa Corine von Koch’s work confronts human’s waste and environmental abuse.  Rather than use petroleum based paint she utilizes sustainably harvested wood,  beeswax and other natural products  in her artwork  to awaken viewer’s awareness of man’s degradation of the planet.

Adam Frus’ piece—a flat globe with a faucet challenges viewers to reflect on how humankind can balance water usage with the natural recharge rate and how individuals can take responsibility for their own actions.

Art stimulates us to raise our environmental awareness by inviting us to consider our surroundings not so much as a backdrop but rather as a companion to our life processes.

Posted by Mark Contorno

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