The Connection Between Art and the Environment

When thinking about art and environmental issues such as climate change, the two subjects don’t seem to have much overlap. A deeper dive into art and its capabilities, however, prove that idea false and quite the opposite. With work like that of Agnes Denes, John Sabraw, David Maisel, and countless other artists, there are clear connections between art and the environmental concerns that we hold. These artists’ work forces the audience to confront the different ways in which humans have impacted the space around us, inspires ideas of how to tackle these issues, and creates spaces for conversation and exploration of the topic. Art’s ability to touch the audience’s emotions further activates a want for change. It can also help improve visibility of the issue, strengthen efforts to address the issue, and provide community members and others with the necessary foundation to address the problem.

Artist Vanessa German with the ARThouse

Beyond just addressing environmental concerns, art can also be community-based and initiate more direct change. The work of local artist Vanessa German highlights how art can influence and create spaces outside the museum and in the real world. German’s initiatives, Love Front Porch and ARThouse, although not exclusively environmental, are certainly community-based. Intended to act as spaces where Homewood’s children, women, and families can come together as a community and create art, German’s ARThouse celebrates creativity and the Homewood community.

Community-based work is highly important in regard to environmental issues because of the issues’ entanglement with other social injustices. They do not affect everyone in the same way, and it is most certainly not random. In the US, people of color and those with lower-incomes often live the closest to pollution, which in turn is not addressed nearly as proactively as it would be in other communities. Race and class are not the only factors that determine one’s degree of exposure to environmental problems. Gender and location also influence how directly they might affect a person.

John Sabraw, Chroma S4 Tribute, 2017, AMD (acid mine drainage) pigments and other points on aluminum composite panel

When a certain community unjustly has to deal with a problem like air pollution, lead contamination, or blighted land, community-based work can reveal the community’s concerns, thoughts, and desires, and illustrate a more accurate representation of the people and the issue at hand through the contribution of the actual community. Community-based art also has the potential to be collaborative with community advocates and members. Adding the collaborative aspect further promotes community autonomy and equips them with important tools and information to create change. A collaborative art piece emphasizes the power art has to create spaces for people to converse, exchange ideas, and develop deeper understandings of environmental issues and how to tackle them.

Art’s potential to catalyze change gives it an inseparable connection to activism. Its ability to increase visibility and deepen comprehension means art is especially good at addressing environmental issues, and when it becomes community-based, art can be a powerful tool when targeting environmental issues.

The “Eco Equation” – a public sculpture that demonstrates self-sustaining energy design through solar and wind power. Braddock, PA.

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