‘Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.’
Art has always been used as a means of delivering important societal messages to the population. With sustainability being at the forefront of modern problems, it is no surprise that many artists have taken to delivering messages about sustainability and environmentalism through their work.
This is not a new concept – even Claude Monet was considered an environmentalist artist. He was known for depicting man’s relationship to nature. Although most of his work was produced over a hundred years ago, he could already see the impact that mankind was having on the world around him.
In modern times, a surge of environmental artists have emerged to take a stand against what human beings have done to their planet. Using their talents to speak out against the environmental decay that they are witnessing, they are inspiring change and even using trash as a part of their work to highlight the problems that we are facing. Some of them are doing it in subtly hostile ways that force humanity to look at its errors.
Chris Jordan is one of those bent on exposing consumer culture for all its ugliness. He rose to prominence for his photographs depicting garbage and waste. His pieces bring light to the products of consumerism and have often been described as shocking and vile.
One of his tools for exposing capitalist culture is creating short digital image progressions, combining photographs and digital media, that he calls ‘slow-motion apocalypses’. He is also well known for his disturbing photographs. Jordan is not creating art to be pretty and aesthetically pleasing, he is doing it to scream at the world that it is time to wake up.
Photograph by Chris Jordan (source)
Jordan is not the only person utilizing the trash horror-scape of today’s world and turning it into art.
Sculpture by Washed Ashore (source)
Washed Ashore is a non profit artistic organization that works with trash washed up on beaches, as their name would suggest. They aim to create awareness through their larger than life sculptures composed only of waste. It was founded by Angela Haseltine Pozzi who was both disturbed and inspired by trash that she saw wash up on beaches in Oregon. The group uses art as a form of protest, aiming to showcase the problem of plastic waste and the mass scale that it is now present in. She has been quoted saying, ‘Until we run out of plastic on the beaches, we will continue to do our work.’
Washed ashore is not the only group working with plastics found on beaches and in the ocean.
Plastic sculpture by Gilles Cenazandotti (source)
Gilles Cenazandotti is another artist who is both alarmed and inspired by the amount of plastic washing up on today’s beaches. The French artist creates life-sized animal sculptures that are composed entirely of plastic. His work aims to highlight the problems that plastic and pollution is posing to animals. Many of his artworks depict animals that are either endangered or greatly threatened by our plastic problem.
Artists like these are aiming to inspire through their work. Nil-Udo is a noteworthy artist working with nature and sculpture in a different way. Unlike the above mentioned plastic sculptors, his artwork is not created to be shocking. Instead, he works alongside nature to create beautiful, aesthetically pleasing work. The sculptor has been active for decades; creating artworks that focus on building striking visual images of utopia into natural landscapes. His work aims to show us that man-made paradises can exist next to nature and that the beauty of nature amplifies the beauty of man-made creations.
Art installation by Nil-Udo (source)
Street artists have some of the highest rates of exposure in the art world simply because the canvases they choose to paint on are often the walls of public spaces. Bansky is the most famous of these artists. He is a well known public figure with art that has challenged the ways in which we think and perceive the world around us. Banksy has been known to challenge the socio-political landscape of our time, but he has also contributed to the protest against man made climate change and ecological destruction.
One of the pieces that Banksy has geared towards environmental activism is a mural in Wales. It illustrates a boy who appears to be playing in snow, but on closer inspection it is revealed that the snow is actually pollution.
Bansky’s anti-pollution artwork (source)
While artists are exploring and expressing their views on today’s landscape of ongoing destruction and environmental decay, the expression of sustainability is not only coming from the works that artists create but also the industry itself.
There is a growing number of brands trying to make art itself a sustainable action by transforming the tools that artists use to encompass these values. In the age of sustainability, no stone can be left unturned. Even art supplies are becoming more sustainable.
Growing evidence has emerged detailing the harmful nature of paint. It is common knowledge that painting a room with no open windows or airflow will leave you feeling nauseous and dizzy, so it is not a far stretch to reach the conclusion that paint can be harmful!
The World Health Association has stated that house contractors working with paint have a 40% increased risk of getting lung cancer from paint. This horrific fact has come to fruition because of the dangerous chemicals emitted by paint. These fumes are toxic to human beings, animals, and even contribute to air pollution.
Oil-based paints have been an artistic staple since the days of the renaissance, but it was not until 1978 that the issue of lead-based paints was addressed and banned. Even after this action, many oil-based paints still contain harmful metals.
Oil-based paint is still harmful to the environment and is a health hazard to human beings. It can cause allergic reactions, skin irritations, gastrointestinal symptoms, and even heart-related problems. When paint enters the nervous system it can cause confusion and dizziness. In extreme cases, oil-based paint has even been linked to cancer. If these paints enter the stomach of the lungs, they can be extremely toxic. Paint can enter the nervous system through the skin, eyes, or if accidentally consumed.
The primary cause of these health hazards is the hydrocarbon materials and heavy metals found in paint. Thankfully, artists do not need to stop painting in order to be safe. Paints are now being manufactured with safer ingredients and eco-friendliness in mind.
A growing number of green companies have been working to produce oil-based paints in safer ways that are less harmful to artists and the environment. Some are using biodegradable materials and some are using plant based oils and fats which are inherently more eco-friendly. Another option is to steer away from oil-based paints. Water-based paints are usually more environmentally friendly as they leave less waste and are more biodegradable than anything oil based. The acrylic paint market is also making progress to strive towards sustainability and away from plastic-like paint.
Acrylic paint is a culprit of environmental harm. Some acrylics are plastic-based, toxic, and require vast amounts of energy to produce. The energy-intensive process of creating acrylic paint also makes use of harmful chemicals that are then released into the air, creating air pollution. All of this puts a lot of stress on the environment, and the need to address the poor manufacturing process of this commonly used paint has become urgent. Acrylic is not only a staple for artists, but it is also utilized for household needs. Furniture and walls are often coated with acrylic based paint. We have long addressed why lead-based paint is harmful, resulting in it being banned. It is now time to address the problems that arise with other methods of paint production.
There are alternatives to using toxic products that have become staples in paint production. Thankfully, there are brands exploring and embracing these alternatives.
Wyland Ecological Art Studio is producing eco-friendly, non-toxic acrylic paint. They are one of many brands in the art supply industry that has become committed to sustainability and thus dedicated to removing toxic chemicals from their production process. There are also brands exploring new alternatives to traditional paint and creating paint types that deliver the same results while using sustainable ingredients and production methods.
Sustainable paint is now emerging in many new and innovative forms. Some alternatives to traditional paint that have emerged in the market now are:
- Milk-based paint
Milk-based products are making waves all over different sustainable markets. They are made from milk protein and are biodegradable and recyclable.
- Plant-based paint
Plant-based paint is made from natural colorants instead of harmful chemicals. Brands such as Earth Pigments offer plant pigments in powder form, requiring a more hands-on approach that many artists enjoy. The paint is biodegradable and eco-friendly due to it being composed of all-natural ingredients.
- Zero VOC
Zero VOC brands focus steering away from the use of VOC, which is common in many paint brands. VOC is a toxic chemical that is used as a colorant and is found in most types of paint. Only brands that call themselves Zero VOC have committed to finding alternatives.
The benefits of choosing eco-friendly paint over unsustainable traditional options are astronomical and include:
- Improved personal health
- Fewer health risks
- Less environmental damage via less contribution to landfills and less ozone layer depletion
- Hazardous fumes are not present in eco-friendly paints
- Water-based paints are easier to clean
- VOC free paints are some of the most durable on the market
Some would say that an artist is hardly an artist without paint, but there are many more materials in the art world needs to focus on improving to make the arts more sustainable. While the rest of the world becomes more and more digitally oriented, many artists are not willing to give up their paper. Paper brands that specifically cater to artists still have a massive market, and some are stepping up to make paper geared towards artists more sustainable and eco-friendly.
Recycled paper is bigger than ever. People have become increasingly aware of the damage caused by paper as we lose forest after forest to the paper industry. Recycled paper is smoother and easier to use than ever, and artists are embracing it all over the world.
Brands are now creating recycled paper specifically for artists. Strathmore has been around for a while, creating beautiful drawing paper for artists. Fabriano’s White Ecological Artist Paper is creating acid-free sustainable paper made from recyclable cellulose.
It is easier than ever for artists to embrace sustainable choices. Some artists are going even further and using their talents to push sustainable initiatives. The artists who we explored earlier in this article are all using their voices to raise their concerns about the environment and do their part to promote sustainability. But what about when sustainable initiatives work hand in hand with artists?
There have always been artists looking to engage with the problems of the world they find themselves in, and climate change is one of the highlighted problems of or time. Growing numbers of art centered initiatives are working with climate change and sustainability in mind, looking to improve the earth while focusing on art. A few of these groups doing notable things in the art world are:
- Open Jar Collective
The Open Jar Collective is a group of artists and designers in Scotland. They involve their local communities with their work, sharing food, ideas, and art workshops with the public. The work that they produce covers everything from painting workshops to dinners and debates.
- Invisible Dust
Invisible Dust is a group composed of artists and scientists working together. Their projects center around new and creative ways to spread information about climate change. They make public art installations find new ways to engage with the community via art, and they collect and store the levels of pollution in the UK every day. Their public installations such as Human Sensor (pictured above) can be described as a unique type of artistic protest.
ONCA is a unique creative space that homes performance art and storytelling, all revolving around issues that animals face. The unique creative space in London was born out of a desire held by the founder, Laura Coleman, to share the story of a puma she had come into contact with while traveling in Bolivia. Raised as a pet, there had been attempts to release the puma, but it was terrified of the jungle. Coleman felt that she shared a special bond with the animal and she spent a lot of time with it during her years in Bolivia. When she returned to London, she wanted to find a way to tell the story of the puma, and thus ONCA was born.
All of these art groups and initiatives are making progress and spreading messages through their art. They are urging us to ask the question of what individual artists can do. There are steps that artists can take to be more sustainable in their art on a personal level, even if their message is not about sustainability:
- Limit paint use
Less waste is always the sustainable option!
- Dispose of any waste correctly
This goes especially for toxic products. Remember to recycle anything possible.
- Reuse solvents
This also means that you need to dispose of them correctly when they are no longer reusable
- Choose green companies when shopping for any art supplies
Art companies that opt for sustainability are always worth supporting over those who don’t.
- Recycle and use recyclable goods
Going green is not the challenge that is used to be, and creative pursuit does not need to be harmful to the environment. As long as we are facing environmental problems, artists will be speaking out against them, as the artists of the past have spoken out against the problems of their time. If we find the art disturbing, maybe we need to be disturbed.