Environmental art is on the rise and its potential is far reaching. If you search carefully, you notice how you can find Environmental art everywhere in society. The diverse form of art ranges from photographs in a museum, to massive constellations in the natural environment, to stickers in urban scenes, to theatre plays, or even popular culture music. Environmental art can be subtle, or right in your face, but either way it’s a powerful means of environmental activism.
Until this day, climate change has not been taken seriously enough in many layers of society. An alarming amount of people still believe climate change is a hoax, or that it shouldn’t be a priority on the political agenda. The science is clear, but why is not convincing enough? People seem to need more than scientific evidence to be convinced about the necessity of climate action. Rather than changing the collective consciousness with scientific facts, it might be more effective to appeal to the senses.
One of the earliest Environmental artists was Agnes Denes. In 1982 she planted a two acre wheat field in New York really close to Wall Street and facing the Statue of Liberty, she called her artwork: Wheatfield – A Confrontation. The land she used was worth 4.5 billion dollars and the goal of the piece was to confront our misplaced priorities in many industries, such as food, energy, ecology and world trade. The harvested wheat became part of the global exhibition The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger.
Another example of an interesting Environmental art piece is the work Ice Watch by Olafur Eliasson. The artist placed twelve ice blocks, which broke off an ice sheet in Greenland, in a clock formation to give people an unique and interactive experience with melting arctic ice. The installation was placed on the Copenhagen City Hall Square on the day of the publication of the fifth IPCC report, additionally in Paris on Place du Panthéon during the Paris Climate Conference and later in London in front of the Tate Modern. The artist has studied behavioural psychology and recognizes that the scientific evidence about climate change needs to be translated into emotional experiences in order to achieve behavioural change.
Environmental art can also be found in popular culture. Three days before Earth Day 2019, the American rapper Lil Dicky released the song Earth, which features 30 artists including Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Snoop Dogg. The song raises awareness about climate change and the proceedings are donated to the Foundation of Leonardo DiCaprio, which protects vulnerable ecosystems and wildlife. The song tries to address climate change in a funny and an accessible way. The animated music video received a lot of attention after its release and currently has almost 250 million views.
Next to supporting sustainable projects with his foundation, Leonardo DiCaprio is also dedicated to promote Environmental art. He for example donated the large artwork of John Gerrard called the Solar Reverse Tonopah, Nevada (2014) to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The artwork is a simulation of a solar thermal power tower and shows the real time movements of mirrors to face the sun. The mirrors reflect the sunlight towards the top of the tower and there the bundled light heats molten salts. The salts become a thermal battery and are used to generate electricity. The artwork’s goal is to promote renewable energy.
Many more pieces or varieties of Environmental art exist, but these four examples already show the wide audience Environmental art can reach. Environmental art is not new or small, instead it is a far reaching and highly accessible form of climate activism. Not everyone probably enjoys Lil Dicky’s song, but that doesn’t matter. The art movement’s diversity ensures that it appeals to many different groups of people. Moreover, the emotional responses art can evoke might be just as powerful as having a scientific insight. The scientists Sommer and Klöckner (2019) looked into the capacity of climate change art to raise awareness about global warming and found that art can indeed influence people’s opinion. However, an art piece is most effective if it is displayed outside the borders of a museum and when it displays a hopeful picture, offers solutions or emphasizes the beauty of nature. In the end art has the potential to engage people in a very different way than scientific facts ever could, this makes Environmental art a valuable form of climate activism. It’s a creative tool that might help steering the public debate about climate change into a more fruitful discussion.
References and Additional Reading
Sommer LK, Klöckner CA. 2019. Does activist art have the capacity to raise awareness in audiences? — A study on climate change art at the ArtCOP21 event in Paris. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.