The terms green, ecological or sustainable is applied to many different topics. From natural services (for example, energy) fashion, art, or industrial products in general.
The natural wonders of the planet have inspired us to express ourselves with more than words for thousands of years. From Paleolithic cave paintings to high-impact digital photographs of the animal kingdom. However, the environmental crisis we are currently experiencing has prompted new artistic movements that go beyond capturing and representing nature as in the past, to transform nature in the work itself and in a more conscious way.
The idea of living green has become an increasingly popular trend, and the art world is no exception. As people become more aware of global warming and our collective need to protect the Earth; we see that more and more artists adopt this concept and work in the field of sustainable or ecological art.
What is not generally known is that; different types of artists or art focus on improving the environment.
Although it seems that the idea of sustainable or ecological art is a relatively new term; The truth is that artists have been working in this field for quite some time. They were often labeled conceptual artists or eco artists because they used the environment and sustainability as a springboard for their ideas.
Landscapes can be found in; ancient Chinese engravings, ancient Egyptian tomb drawings, Roman frescoes from 1 BC, and rural motifs in the divine works of the Middle Ages; It was not until the Renaissance, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, that nature acquired autonomy in painting.
The link between painting and sustainability, in the environmental sense, increased by becoming a constant. With the arrival of the Baroque, Romanticism, Impressionism, and then Post-Impressionism and subsequent movements; a keen interest in the use of natural resources developed.
To find the next relevant stage in the relationship between art and sustainability, it is necessary to travel to the second half of the 20th century. Until then, art had interacted with sustainable development only on a thematic level. As simple content of the work; In the late 1970s, the Land Art movement began to communicate an important message of sustainability through its very form, the materials used, and its impact on the environment.
The most famous example of Land Art is Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. It is a huge sculpture in the Utah desert; made with 5,000 tons of basalt, built in the Great Salt Lake in the form of a spiral. Like the rest of the Land Art produced, Spiral Jetty was influenced by the landscape of which it is a part, completely intertwining with its surroundings. Land Art became the first sustainable creative movement, both in its form and in its content; due to its use of materials such as wood, earth, sand, stones, water, etc. In addition, it is subject – like nature itself – to the weather, which often causes changes in the composition as if it were just another natural element.
Like many aspects of the art world, the concept of sustainable or ecological art can be defined in many ways. Some artists define it as works of art that treat or criticize environmental problems; Other artists identify as eco-artists because their materials and studio practices have an ecological footprint or are made primarily from recycled materials.
Eco-art will focus on the present and optimize an individual aspect of a product. For example, using bamboo paper for art prints.
Bamboo paper is considered an ecological material since its production requires 30% less water than normal paper. In addition, it removes some of the demand pressure on forests. However, bamboo art print cannot be considered sustainable. The main reason is that it comes mainly from China. Therefore, it requires shipping or trucks for worldwide distribution. The air pollution caused by this transport contributes to climate change instead of helping to combat it. In addition, it can give rise to monocultures, which can pose a threat to biodiversity.
Then the ecological art would be All art or artist that creates with materials that help the environment. Either using bamboo paper or other materials that do not contribute to environmental degradation.
What makes something sustainable or not? Is it just about energy efficiency? What about the use of toxic chemicals, the distances traveled by components, the purchase of materials from ecological brands, the promotion of an alternative to the culture of consumption, etc.? There are so many aspects and points of view that it is not possible to satisfy them all.
Sustainable art is art in harmony with the key principles of sustainability, which include ecology, social justice, non-violence, and grassroots democracy.
Artists focus on the life cycle of works of art, considering the material load of the pieces they produce and the resources they use. It is not only about reducing [or eliminating] material waste and possible damage to ecosystems but also about rethinking the complex implications of packaging, transport, storage, advertising, and exhibition of works of art. There is a move away from the production of objects, towards a work more based on the process, on the action of expressing and informing. This is probably the most standard definition of Sustainable Art.
In conclusion, the relevance of the ecological or sustainability for contemporary art can be approached from two different angles. On the one hand, we can consider the role of art in bringing environmental problems to the fore, expressing a critique of unsustainable factors in society, and offering imaginative ideas on how to achieve sustainability. The other approach is to turn the criticism towards the art world itself, to examine the environmental impact of the production of works of art, the functioning of artistic institutions, or, for example, the phenomenon of international art biennials that have proliferated in the world. all over the world in the last decades.
An artist can work sustainably and ecologically at the same time. Being aware of the materials he uses and the message that his art expresses.