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Artists and Environmental Issues Essay

Following more than “two hundred years of industrial vandalism” (Burnham 3), mankind now realizes the vulnerability of the ecosystem. Whereas objective data indicates that many elements of the environment are at their worse conditions since the beginning of measurement (Russel, “Climate Change Accelerates,” n. pag.), shifts in local, national and international policies may bring about some needed changes in the state of the environment. These shifts include, among others, international conventions, measurements to reduce carbon emissions taken by the industrial sector, and the emergence of ecological communities around the world. As a result, some environmental factors such as the Ozone layer (Herro, n. pag.) show a gradual course of improvement.

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As a producer of cultural products, the artist takes an active role in the dialogue between people and between humanity and the environment. In fact, more than a few artists – such as Austrian painter and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser – pioneered the advocacy of ecological issues long before these issues penetrated the public debate. This trend is exceedingly significant today, when artists and architects (such as the New-York based industrial designer and architect Emilio Ambasz) preach and work with great environmental awareness.

Based on the assumption that the triangle men-nature-art has a clear dialectical dynamics, the artist is as influential as influenced. Inasmuch as the major bulk of scientific reasoning is incomprehensible for most people, it is safe to assume that the public pressure towards “action at the diplomatic and national policy levels to limit carbon emissions” (Russel, “Carbon Emissions on the Rise,” n. pag.) is significantly fueled from the dominant voice of the art community. This notion can be best described in terms of an “esthetic propaganda,” which serves as a supplement (but not as an alternative) to the other channels of influence, principally the mass media, politics and popular science.

Under the same dialectical assumption, environmental changes inspire the artist and her work. As noted by Eckerle, climate change and man-made damages to nature directly affect the biodiversity (n. pag.), and thus limit the thematic world of the artist. Moreover, an increasing number of weather-related disasters with severe impact on lives, communities and terrain (Löw, n. pag.) are among today’s most serious catastrophes. Just like the Black Death influenced a generation of European medieval artists, Krug and Siegenthaler identify a radical change of world perception among artists who are affiliated with the Environmental Art Movement, such as Hans Haacke and Joseph Beuys (sec #1).

Finally, in the light of the fact the human affairs must incline with the need to preserve the ecosystem, artists from all disciplines face great challenges, which go beyond their commitment to increase public awareness. One of the most significant challenges is the contribution to establishing the esthetics of sustainable human habitats, which aim to minimize ecological footprints while ensuring inhabitants’ well being (Assadourian, n. pag.). If done correctly, a shift in the focus of art from the naïve production of “a tiny output of art objects [that] could somehow ‘beautify’ or even significantly modify the environment” (Burnham 3) to a large-scale intervention in the process of creating new forms of living, which are as esthtic as sustainable. The returns on this immense investment are primarily in the long run (Russwell, “Climate Change Accelerates,” n. pag.), but art can take a major role in the effort.

Works Cited
Assadourian, Erik. “Sustainable Communities Become More Popular.” Worldwatch Institute. Worldwatch Institute, 6 May 2008. Web. 26 Sep. 2009.
Burnham, Jack. “Systems Esthetics.” Artforum 7.1 (1968): 30-35. Web. 24 Sep. 2009.
Eckerle, Kevin P. “Climate Change Affects Terrestrial Biodiversity.” Worldwatch Institute. Worldwatch Institute, 6 May 2008. Web. 26 Sep. 2009.
Herro, Alana. “Ozone Layer Stabilizing But Not Recovered.” Worldwatch Institute. Worldwatch Institute, 8 Nov. 2007. Web. 26 Sep. 2009.
Krug, Don, and Jennifer Siegenthaler. “Changing Views About Art and the Earth.” Photoessays: Art and the Earth. greenmuseum.org, 2006. Web. 26 Sep. 2009.
Löw, Petra. “Weather-related Disasters Dominate.” Worldwatch Institute. Worldwatch Institute, 2 Oct. 2008. Web. 26 Sep. 2009.
Russell, James. “Carbon Emissions on the Rise But Policies Growing Too.” Worldwatch Institute. Worldwatch Institute, 6 Aug. 2008. Web. 26 Sep. 2009.
— “Climate Change Accelerates.” Worldwatch Institute. Worldwatch Institute, 26 Feb. 2008. Web. 26 Sep. 2009.

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