Category: Art and climate change

Art & Climate Change

Tropical Diversity
‘Tropical Diversity’ ink collage on paper © J.Hart 2019 4″ x 10″

As some of my readers may know, I’m an artist (www.jhart-artist.com), and I write a blog from my website as well as from www.realmofcolor.wordpress.com. Ever since my graduation from Rhode Island School of Design, a lifetime ago, I have been haunted by the question of how art, and I as an artist, could respond authentically and adequately to what I witness both in every day life and read in books about the unfolding catastrophe that is climate change (the most recent book I read is David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo, which is a great read on how extinction works and the scientists who study and theorize about it).

The question has a number of facets: firstly, there is the issue of content. Do I use figurative imagery to express my moral ideas as someone like Kara Walker or Banksey does? Or do I avoid the whole dilemma by making abstract art like Thomas Nozkowski     or Howard Hodgkin, both of whom I admire.

Then there is the relationship of art to the environment. Ever since I was trained as a painter, the understanding within the art world is that a serious, professional artist would, of course, make large pieces of art, and lots and lots of them (even Hodgkin, at the end of his life, succumbed to this pressure!). The issues of use of the Earth’s resources, storage, and pollution are ignored within the same rationale that is used to justify abstraction: art is essentially good and operates outside real world norms.

And finally there is the most difficult of problems: the way art is and has been my whole life tied to runaway capitalism and the superwealthy. I went to a Saatchi Other Art Fair recently here in Dallas, and I was appalled by the banality of the work and the sheer commercialism of it all. The works, mainly paintings, were of the Zombie Formalism or Zombie Abstraction variety (https://news.artnet.com/opinion/history-zombie-formalism-1318352). The work was overwhelmingly decorative, which is to say without content at all (and especially nothing, God forbid, of a political nature). I found the only paintings with a heart or soul were those of Jammie Holmes (www.jammieholmes.com); his were also one of the few booths showing figurative art.

So, presently, I have decided certain things about how I will make art in this fraught time. First, and foremost, I am working small. My most recent pieces are 4 inches by 10 inches!

Secondly, I am working with inexpensive materials:  collage using paint chips from paint stores; ink on paper; and whatever art supplies I have on hand. This latter category is rarely talked about, but, in a consumer society, we artists are encouraged to buy a lot of art supplies, and to spend a lot of money framing our art as an expression of its value and our professionalism.

Thirdly, I am offering my work in multiples online and in book formats which are more accessible. Any large work I do will be ‘in situ’; murals are a good way to display art publicly and live with it privately without framing or storage.

And, finally, I am continuing to alternate between figurative and abstract work. This is a conscious political choice to avoid that recent most pernicious expectation that we are all in the business of working on our ‘brand.’  My work does not represent a brand! And, as a thinking, feeling artist, if my need for different formal means for different projects messes up the marketing of my art, well, I think I can live with that!

Perhaps all of these seem like small choices, but they are, for me, better choices, and more in keeping with the Earth first values that I am attempting to live. I would love to hear how you have resolved the dilemmas between your work and your life in the time of climate change…please drop me a comment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art & Climate Change

 

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/northern-californias-wildfires-local-artists-1117727?utm_content=buffer2eb6e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=socialmedia

The above is one of the few articles that I have seen on the losses artists have endured because of extreme climate change. I have not seen to date any articles on what artists in Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands have suffered. Seeing the nightmare of losing one’s  studio and all the accumulated artwork in it, makes me wonder again: what is the best way for an artist to set up for the climate-induced disasters of the coming age?

As artists, we live with certain constraints, especially if we are painters still working in an easel tradition:

  1. we need art supplies. Even if we choose to live a minimalist lifestyle (certainly my goal), depending on what type of art we do, we will use many more tools than, say,  writers do.
  2. we need studio space in which to do our work, and store our supplies.
  3. and we need inventory: I am a painter, and I have lots of paintings and drawings and sketchbooks that I can sell or use for future work. These things are, in essence, my equity.

Now if a fire or flood destroys these things, insurance will pay for very little. Insurance might pay for supplies or the studio, but there is no way to replace the paintings (as I understand it, the supplies that went into the paintings can be reimbursed, but not the actual value in terms of work time and potential sales).

So I have been thinking of two paths: one to minimize the risk; the other to soften the blow.  Let’s start with the latter: what can make the loss of artwork less painful?

1. Photograph in full file and store online and in hard drive everything that would be difficult to part with, and I mean everything: paintings, drawings, sketchbooks. It is the same with important photographs, and papers (birth certificates, passports, wills, drivers licenses, etc.) but for a different reason. You just want to have a record of the papers, but you want the peace of mind to know that you will be able to reproduce the art, either as a print or a gclee, if the original piece is destroyed. Paintings can also be repainted using good photographs as references. We tend not to make copies in this day and age, but if the work is really important, it can be remade.

2. Practice non-attachment. One way is through Buddhist study and practice: http://www.zen-buddhism.net/buddhist-principles/four-noble-truths.html. Another more secular route is by accepting randomness as the basis of reality. The best book to read on this is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan. For a quick synopsis: https://medium.com/personal-finance-series-by-richard-reis/black-swan-101-beware-the-highly-improbable-316658109d46.

Thinking about how to minimize the risk, I have come up with a number of ways:

  1. Store in secure storage units that are fire and flood resistant though I assume that this is an expensive choice.
  2. Leave the paintings with as many friends as possible. These paintings are “on loan” and if I sell them or need them for a show, I just retrieve them. Not having them all in one place, like my studio, also gives me some more peace of mind, and I like the idea that the art is giving pleasure and not sitting wrapped up unseen somewhere!
  3. Edit ruthlessly so you have a smaller inventory.  I have an artist friend who keeps everything he does. He has reams of sketches, piles of sketch books, and closets full of paintings. And certainly there is a widely understood assumption that true professional artists produce prolifically.  But I don’t believe that artists should either be like industrial manufacturers or hoarders. Paintings can be gessoed over and painted over. Or the old canvas can be removed and new canvas put on the old stretchers. Again, if the painting that is to be destroyed has been photographed, it can still act as inspiration or reference. And destroying a piece because it is not that good is cathartic and keeps the art from becoming too “precious.”
  4. Switch media! Easel painting was invented in the 14th century as a way to make painting more accessible physically: easier to move. But seven centuries later, easel paintings have unfortunately joined the overwhelming flood of objects that crowd our homes, use up the Earth’s resources, and are just one more commodity to purchase. As a change, I have been looking at Print on Demand (POD) where the image is uploaded to a website and the buyer can buy it as a print without the artist having to keep inventory; books, again a POD situation; and in situ murals. This last is where painting in our time has gone to live, and in a strange historical reversal, some of the most dynamic painting being done today is found on walls for public consumption, as was the case for most of recorded history!

These are just my first raw thoughts on life as an artist in the time of extreme climate change, but I would be grateful to hear the ideas of other artists!