For centuries, art1 has been an integral part of society. From paintings and music to literature and sculpture, art has the power to influence and change the way we think and live. Art evokes emotions and emotions ignite a reaction. Those reactions spur thought-provoking conversations, leading to a movement that empowers change. At the very core, art is a form of mass communication.
If art has the power to make political, cultural, and economic changes, then the climate crisis can surely be art’s latest muse because the clock is ticking on the world as we know it. Rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, destructive wildfires and floods, we’re already beginning to suffer the effects of the climate emergency2.
Climate art3 provides a voice for environmental issues, raising awareness to demonstrate the gravity of protecting the Earth.
Artists make climate art in response to the crisis4, to encourage people to think about their actions, to educate viewers and to present the consequences of an incredibly serious matter. The climate emergency often feels overwhelming, we’ve all asked ourselves “What difference will I make?” but art provides a sense of community and hope.
Climate art isn’t a new idea. Since the 1960s, artists have used various art forms5 to address environmental damage, but over the past 20 years, it has gained more attention.
Hungarian artist Agnes Denes has been an environmental trailblazer since the ‘60s, but it was her 1982 environmental art project “Wheatfield–A Confrontation” that caused a stir6. It took Denes six months to complete as she cleared two acres of land in Manhattan and grew a wheatfield in front of the financial district. While it challenged waste and hunger, it also confronted ecological concerns and the future of humanity.
Artists and scientists have become allies in the fight against climate change, with many artists working alongside scientists to support their art. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson did just this by working with geologists. His experiential art installation “Ice Watch” saw Eliasson and his team transport ice blocks from Greenland to outside the Tate Modern in London. People could physically touch the melting ice, making the connection between their everyday impact on the Earth.
Photographer Rachel Sussman7 followed in similar footsteps, working with biologists to photograph living organisms across the globe that are 2,000 years or older. Titled “The Oldest Living Things in the World,” the series of poignant photos celebrates the history of the past but serves as a stark reminder of what we could lose in the future if we don’t act now8.
While visual art conveys powerful messaging, sonic art is just as effective. Songs tug on our heartstrings, make us weep or dance with joy, and music is an excellent source of emotional connection, inspiration, and motivation. Musicians of a certain calibre have a platform to share their voice and some use this for environmental awareness.
Billie Eilish, American singer-songwriter and global superstar, and at just 21 years old she is a household name. With 110 million followers on Instagram alone, the climate crisis needs someone with this extraordinary profile because young adoring fans will pay attention to what she has to say. “All The Good Girls Go To Hell,” from her debut album is a catchy pop song on the surface, but if you hone in on the lyrics, you will uncover the references9 to rising water levels, burning wildfires, and the impending doom of time running out.
British indie-pop band, The 1975, has also voiced their concerns about the planet, going so far as to collaborate with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg10 on the opening track of their fourth studio album. The 1975 has a direct connection with a younger generation, who in hopes will listen, be inspired, and make crucial changes.
Art might not give us all the answers we need, but it certainly inspires us to think and take action. Art is here to change our perspectives, presenting us with an emotional connection. By combining it with something as important as climate change, could it be the breakthrough that society needs for us to actively engage? All art forms allow us to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves and when that happens, we’re inspired to work together to do better.
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