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!