Landscape art, the act of depicting scenery on land, has been a dominant form of artwork for centuries. Prior to the 20th century, landscape painting was quite romanticized in its presentation, often depicting scenes of pure tranquility and peace in the world. Post-romanticism art, however, often displays the reality of our society revealing scenes of warfare, disease and conflict. Similarly, over time, artwork has evolved with a changing society.
Today, in the wake of major environmental changes due to the intensifying effects of climate change, we see a focus on “Environmental art,” a term coined relatively recently becoming more popular in the last few decades. Environmental art defines the expression of ecological issues of climate change, pollution, environmental justice and the overall deteriorating state of the environment.
Most individuals become aware of environmental issues through news sources, educational materials or communication from those around them. However, environmental artwork allows one to observe an abstract piece or painting in a form of self-reflection.
The idea of showing environmental issues seen through the eye isn’t necessarily a new idea, but has picked up intensity with more noticeable effects of climate change. We can see environmental change represented in Monet’s paintings in the London Series, which shows the relationship between fog and the city of London as it interconnects between buildings and bridges. Lorenzo Pereira, writer and artist for Widewalls, a database of all resources art related, notes that some who spearheaded the environment art movement include Nils Udo, Jean-Max Albert and Piotr Kowlaski. Especially present in environmental art are naturally occurring events such as increasing fires and smog, decrease in species abundance, deforestation and severe weather.
Stephanie Becker, journalist from CNN News, wrote about environmental artwork in the aftermath of the historic CampFire located in Paradise, California, in 2018, which was the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history. Becker describes artist Shane Grammer, who painted murals and partially burned houses as a tribute to the losses of the community. These paintings allowed people to mourn their losses while providing hope for the future.
Not only can environmentalism be represented through visuals like painting, but cinematography in the form of pictures, documentaries, and other films. National Geographic explorer Malaika Vaz founded Untamed Planet, an online platform that displays different scenes of human and wildlife interactions through videography. By representing climate change events through stories, you can foster a strong connection to the individual observing the piece of work.
Wildlife photography is increasingly important in the wake of climate change to both document changing environmental conditions as well as the biodiversity that is left on the planet. Photographers such as Charlie Hamilton James from National Geographic capture wildlife in Yellowstone to Manú National Park in Peru. These photos provide critical insight and observation for people who are not able to travel to observe the intricacies of our planet. By fostering these connections, people will still be able to forge a connection to the subject of the photo, creating more empathy towards changes in the environment.
David Attenborough is a well-known figure in the environmental movement, broadcasting over nine natural history films by combining his background in both production and biology. By creating documentaries that are extremely accessible to people across the globe, you can easily educate and provide important information to the public.
In the Berkeley community, people can take a trip to BAMPFA, SF MOMA or a variety of art festivals in San Francisco to try and find examples of environmental art. However, you also do not even need to leave the comfort of your home to find a piece of art online or watch an inspiring film or documentary.
Environmental artwork, which can range from all forms of visual art — painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, photography, filmmaking — provides a platform for the creation of a personal connection with the natural world. By fostering this keen relationship, an individual is more likely to support environmental causes that work to preserve the natural world, instead of harming it. Throughout history, art has been an extremely important tool in human expression, and with the changing environment it will only continue to serve as a dominant mode of representation.