Category: Sustainable Living

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When is Profit not profitable?

Apples on green place web
‘Apples on Green Plate’ oil on canvas © J.Hart

The choices we make as individuals, to grow our own food; to curtail our shopping; to live a zero waste life, might seem beside the point, especially when seen against the horrific worldwide rise of abusive authoritarian governments. For me, the question becomes: what is the engine that is driving these disastrous governments; and where is the point at which we can effect the most pressure? As I understand the system, most of the necessities we buy (one of the most basic is food) are provided by giant corporations whose sole reason for being is profit. It is the money from these corporate entities and owners that supports our present politicians.

Once profit becomes the only goal of every action taken, the more humane and real needs of people such as health, safety, and peace are ignored or even actively destroyed! But conversely, if we, as individual consumers, also make our individual profit and comfort the end all and be all of our lives, we collude with the corporations in our own destruction and support our own impoverishment!  The corporations and the billionaires who own them can only exist if we buy what they are selling! (For a concise repeat of this message: http://realfarmacy.com/the-woody-harrelson-video-message-the-mainstream-media-does-not-want-you-to-watch/

Surprisingly, we are not captives to the status quo, especially here in North America; (some other occupied and exploited parts of the world are not so lucky). We can disengage from the corporate stranglehold by refusing to buy what we don’t honestly need, and by creating ourselves what we do need. I feel that the most basic way to disengage from an unhealthy economic system is in the foods we chose to buy, and the foods we take the time to grow.

Our industrial profit-driven economic system views resources (soil, fossil fuel, and, yes, people) as unlimited. ( This link by a car engineer who now “builds” forests, gives a very clear description of the difference between industrial and natural uses of resources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjUsobGWhs8&t=17s) It sees soil*, our most important strategic resource, as merely another material to be used and used up (without any thought being given to replenishing the soil!) to grow massive amounts foods that we can buy very cheaply at home and export abroad.

Because we are all habituated to look for the “biggest bang for our buck” we happily buy the inexpensive wheat, soy, and corn which make up most fast foods and commercial food products. The actual costs of these foods-pollution, government subsidies, and the ruination of the soil- are hidden from us, but their health costs have been directly linked to the obesity and diabetes epidemics in the States!

But how do I convince you that what seems profitable is not; that buying food which saves you a couple of bucks will, in the long run, ruin your health? How do I show you that by buying food that is fast and convenient-ready made, widely advertised, and easily accessible- you are profiting large corporations, wealthy stockholders, and billionaire owners that have neither your health nor your well-being at heart? How do I encourage you to learn to grow your own food and not assume that large farms will do it for you? (The methods that agroecology are utilizing to grow food on farms are the same ones that will allow you to grow food in your backyard! )

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/26/opinion/farming-organic-nature-movement.html

How do we, who are eating better, choosing organically raised produce, raising our own foods (even if only on windowsills and balconies), convince friends and family that taking the time and money to support local organic farms or grow food themselves will profit us all in ways that cannot be expressed simply as the bottom line? Or perhaps health should be the real bottom line!

*(An important book that explains how soil depletion can destroy whole societies is Dirt by David Montgomery https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQACN-XiqHU).

https://www.matthieuricard.org/fr/blog/posts/justice-sociale-societe-de-consommation-et-simplicite-volontaire?fbclid=IwAR0qs2GhqhZCkp2eJy6DJTdpcads93n2LbeDEE-Cc5IBictZVuc1zPRUWr8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fantasy of Tidying

blue hubbard web detail
How do you tidy the natural world? Eat it!!

Netflix has begun streaming a series of Marie Kondo visits with her clients to help them declutter their homes, all of which are in California. I just binged the full eight episodes, and it is definitely helping me with my wish to make this a “no buy” year!

I have been a fan of Kondo since I read her 2011 book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, but the suggestion of this series that working through one’s clutter, preferably in tandem with one’s spouse, will improve one’s life: solve problems in family relationships; bring more joy into the home; and eliminate the problem of clutter by creating habits and storage systems that will be continued to be used; and all in the short time one has with the in-person help of Marie Kondo, makes this clearly a TV show Netflix should file under the “sci-fi &fantasy” rubric!

The most egregious part of this series is the unspoken assumption that the hyper-consumerism that all these families support is somehow normal for the rest of us! These are wealthy people, not average working people. Most of these folks have houses big enough to support huge collections of clothes, kitchen supplies, shoes, books, bric-a-brac, toys, etc. (Interesting statistic from A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance: the US has 3.1% of the children in the world, but buys 40% of the toys worldwide!) But nowhere is the money that is needed to hoard the amount of stuff that fills these houses anywhere commented upon!

Kondo elides the darker, but truer emotions, that her method elicits: guilt over the amount of money and energy that allowed the stuff to be bought and to accumulate; anxiety over the inability to keep one’s head above the engulfing chaos; despair at the emptiness of lives lived for consumption; and grief over unfulfilling personal relationships. Instead we are given, in the figure of Marie Kondo, a Japanese Tinkerbell: perfect, petite, and with a constant smiling mask, who assures all her clients that they are okay, and that they will be successful.

The “system” Kondo uses is based on positivity (probably why it has been so attractive to Americans): the object is to make choices about what to keep rather than what to give up, though the pieces that don’t “spark joy” (a limited and poorly defined emotion) are dumped after being “thanked” for their service.  But never does Marie Kondo suggest that thanking one’s possessions for their service may not be as important as thanking the Earth for the resources it provided for all the objects, or thanking the thousands of people whose hands, sweat, ideas, and energy created the items that glut these homes! The source of our wealth here in the West is again made invisible!

And finally, as the focus remains tenaciously on the clients’ emotional state and how happy the Kondoma method will make them, the work of decluttering, which is a really hard struggle, takes place offstage. Nor is there any suggestion of a larger community who could use the stuff. Again, an interesting hint that the families only know other people in the same economic bracket as they are in; people who would not need any more stuff either or to whom they are too embarrassed to ask for help!

The assumption is that most of the bags go to thrift stores where it can be reused (though recent statistics suggest that much of what goes to thrift stores ends up in the trash as does recycling. But how much was recycled? And how much was trashed without any attempt to reuse? Recycling and reusing is not a part of the Marie Kondo brand.

There were a lot of intriguing hints of deeper issues in these first eight episodes: the gender roles, the politics of which played out with shopping, accumulation, and jobs in the home; the comparison of Japanese Americans, only a couple of generations here compared to Marie Kondo, a native of Japan; and the sadder struggles of the true hoarders whose spouses were enabling them and keeping them from dealing with their underlying and debilitating anxiety.

But for me in this blog, the show seems to be a warning against using a band-aid to make a gaping wound seem somehow more attractive! The basic problem is our love-affair with hyper-consumerism. The solution is as basic (and unpalatable) as stopping the shopping! Even the slogan: reduce, recycle, reuse may not be applicable if we are reducing from a completely unnatural level. It may be better for us to only buy necessities and to reuse as much in our homes as we can until we have worked through everything extra, which if the families in this show are any indication will be a long time!

A Happier New Year!

new year's (2018)card lilies 2017 web
© J. Hart ’19 Watercolor pencil on paper. “Winter bouquet.”

“…the driving force behind most of the unintended changes in society is the power exerted by the countless small decisions made by people in the course of their daily lives.” from The Long Descent by John Michael Greer.

We are starting the New Year (2019) in the United States with a revitalized House of Representatives filled with a newly elected, young, and diverse group of Congress people whose mission it is to make the government less corrupt and more responsive to the people’s needs. It is a tremendously encouraging beginning to the New Year.

However, a political and governmental response to the grave problems we face is only one part of the equation. The other part, rarely spoken about, is each of us as moral agents making important choices individually in our every day life. The government sees us as voters, as workers, as consumers, but not as free agents able to change systems by our combined individual actions.

For much of our life, we are enmeshed in an economic system, and, like fish swimming in water, we really are not aware of the water in which we move. The system is not transparent, so it is difficult to make out how it works, even if we wish to understand it: it is hard for us to know what are the best (or better) choices that we should make.

I am resuming this blog, because I wish to share with you my attempts to make better choices in my life, and to hear, hopefully, what you are choosing to do in yours.

Some choices I am making this year are easier than others: I am taking a hiatus on shopping. I will continue to buy food, but I hope to avoid other purchases, especially impulse buying. So far, so good, but we are only a couple of days into the New Year!

Also, I refuse, and have refused for a while now, to buy anything through Amazon. I will not support a company whose owner doesn’t pay his employees enough to live on, and won’t pay taxes for the infrastructure he uses. Amazon also encourages a mindset of instant gratification that I believe is detrimental to people’s ability to act maturely and morally.

The more difficult choices I want to make this year are with my retirement income, which is tied to stocks and the stock market with its focus exclusively on money making; whether I should eliminate meat completely from my diet; and how to switch my household to a truly sustainable one.

I believe that it is worth putting in the time and effort of research and thought to make better choices in day to day, and everyday, life. Here is to a year of better choices for us all!