Climate Change and Art

Do these two things have any connection whatsoever?
Yes. Far more than you’d think.

We have so much information available to us about the changes to our environments, ecosystems and biodiversity, but art is also a window to tell us more about it. Curious? Then read on…

Art itself has evolved over the history of human existence and can tells us everything we need to know – if we look closely enough. Diane Burko made a name for herself in the art world, by exploring her love of landscapes and the world around her. As an activist, she saw a way to communicate with the world about the devastating affects of climate change, through her work. Changing landscapes were enough to draw attention to the planet’s struggles against human impact.

In fact, if you take a look back through historical landscapes from across the globe, you can see differences in the climate.

It has been suggested that even Turner has given an insight of the air quality back in the 19th century. In this painting (Keelman Heaving In Coals By Night) you can see the river Tyne and the ships that transported the coal from the Newcastle mines to various locations around the country. We all know the damaging affects that coal fires had on our atmosphere and can see the ships and the smog captured beautifully.

This painting by Edwin Church was created in 1861. It captures the Iceburgs in the Arctic, with a message of how powerful they are against man’s best efforts. The broken mast in the foreground is a hint to the demise of a ship, a then formidable man made structure. We are now far more aware of the fragility of these landscapes, with modern imagery now depicting the melting icecaps, receding habitats and rising waters due to temperatures climbing.

Photography has also been another window to the past, quietly recording the catastrophic changes that we hadn’t even noticed at the time they were captured. This is a classic example: the vintage adverts that we now love and hold in high artistic esteem are now a terrifying reminder of another way it all went very wrong. I am a child of the 80s. We were told that cutting down trees was wrong and plastic was the way forward! It took 30 years for us to realise the reality of single use plastics and understand that cutting down trees is actually okay – if its controlled, woodland is replenished, products are recycled & biodegradable and none of this destroying habitats (especially those of animals whose numbers are already under threat).

And that brings me nicely on the use of resources. Art itself has evolved, in an attempt to eliminate use of harsh chemicals, single use packaging and contribution to landfill. The use of natural pigments and preservatives have taken over. Digital photography means no more printing rolls and rolls of film from single use casing. Paints are offered in recyclable metal tubes and tubs. My personal bugbear is the use of synthetic resins, as they’re made from fossil sources and there is no way this will ever break down. Unfortunately, selling sites are filled with cheap resin products right now and the trend for home crafting isn’t slowing despite platforms like TikTok taking a stand against it.

They’re not the only media source which is using visuals in a more responsible way…

The Guardian has chosen to use re-educate the way photographers record the impact of our current situation. We are used to seeing photos of polar bears and orangutans being used alongside media reports on climate change. Humans are visual creatures and most of us need to establish credible links between our own lives and what we are looking at in order to find empathy. The Guardian is working to ensure pictures of real people being affected by real issues are providing artwork to their words, rather than animals and landscapes. This is something that is spilling out in other art forms, with a sudden urgency to become accountable. Putting a face to climate change makes it personal.

This huge mural of David Attenborough was painted on the side of a building in Essex by Scott Irving, as part of a display called ‘Making Waves’. Attenborough’s instantly recognisable face and public image is irrevocably linked with saving the planet and the natural world, so it’s application in any form will immediately draw related meaning.

I realise that this post merely touches the tip of the iceberg (pun not intended) with art and climate change, but there are so many articles and papers out there which can provide you with further information. It’s an extremely powerful discussion as we are living this NOW, it is happening NOW. The artwork being created today will be the historical footprints of tomorrow.

Profound eh?

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