So what exactly is eco-art? According to eco-art.org, it is ecological art with a purpose, which is created by artists who are concerned with the state of both local and global environmental situations. The word “eco” is Greek in origin, and means “home”, and of course, the word “art” is self-explanatory.
Eco-art concerns itself with ecological activism and the highlighting of issues, whereas art in nature and land art are similar in ways, but are less about activism. Land art tends to involve conceptual issues, while art in nature uses natural found materials to create beautiful pieces.
Photography and paintings that address environmental problems are also part of the eco-art movement.
Eco-artists are concerned about the environment. As such, they often create art that improves an area environmentally and/or that highlights a specific environmental issue. It must also be noted that eco-art addresses aesthetics, ethics, politics, culture, and economics, and the impact these have on the world’s ecosystems. With climate change currently growing at an alarming rate, the field of ecological art is expanding rapidly.
The main principles of eco-art are:
- To re-envision our relationship with nature, and put forward new ways to co-exist with the environment.
- Be concerned with environmental materials and forces, thus creating art that works with natural forces, such as lightning, water, wind, and even earthquakes.
- To remediate and reclaim damaged natural environments, often restoring ecosystems in artistic ways.
- To create art which informs the viewer of environmental issues, politics, culture, the historical aspects of eco-systems, nature, and its processes.
- To create works that use natural materials.
- To inform the public about environmental problems and ecological dynamics.
- To creatively propose new ways for sustainability, healing, and coexistence.
Eco-friendly art works on improving our relationship with the natural world. Much of the art is collaborative – involving input from artists, scientists, community groups, and educators. Many eco art works are site-specific. Some eco art is also ephemeral, which means that it transforms or disappears as the environment changes. Other pieces are designed to be sited in a specific place.
So what’s the difference between eco-art and environmental art?
Many artists use the terms eco-art, environmental art, and even land art interchangeably to describe different things. According to the site greenmuseum.org, there has never been a complete and definitive description of the terms, so they are somewhat of a gray area.
Environmental art is often used as an umbrella term to describe eco-art, earth art, land art, art in nature, and more. It is for this reason that many people use the term eco-art interchangeably with environmental art.
One aspect of eco-art that distinguishes it from general environmental art is that it generally refers to contemporary activist art rather than simply as art that involves the land. Therefore, the term environmental art should be considered as a starting point in terms of exploration of this genre of art rather than a complete and all-encompassing description.
Environmental art sometimes encompasses ecological issues, however is not specific to them. The roots of environmental art were originally concerned with general artistic vision.
This concept can be explained quite simply by looking at the definitions of each different word:
- Environmental: relating to or of the surroundings or external conditions.
- Ecological: characterized by the interdependence of living organisms such as ecosystems in the environment.
There are numerous and diverse approaches involved in ecological art, these include:
- Activist projects. These are created to energize, inform, engage, and activate change in public policy or behaviors.
- Remediation projects. Artists often work with urban planner, environmental scientists, and landscape architects to restore or reclaim disrupted and polluted environments.
- Representational artwork. This involves creating art that reveals conditions and information which stimulates dialog.
- Social sculptures. These are time-based and socially engaged art works that actively involve communities to participate in monitoring their own landscapes and utilizing sustainable practices.
- Direct encounter. Involves utilizing sunlight, plants, and other natural phenomena.
- Ecopoetic art. This re-envisions the natural world, encouraging and inspiring coexistence with other species.
- Lived-and-relational esthetics. Related to off-the-grid, sustainable, permaculture existences.
- Pedagogical or didactic works. Inform the viewer of ecological problems and environmental injustice.
Types of Eco-Art
Ecological art is a contemporary movement that focuses on an eco-friendly methodology with an emphasis on environmental issues. This art movement often involves restoration and collaborative works. Restoration art is a form of eco-art as it often restores damaged and polluted landscapes and ecosystems.
This term was coined in 1999 and fuses together the words, “ecology” and “invention” to describe artistic projects which physically change and transform local ecologies.
Art in Nature
This is an art form which is mostly used in Europe. It focuses on creating with natural materials found on-site. As an art form, art in nature focuses more on aesthetics rather than on ecological content. Occasionally, however, there can be an overlap between eco art and art in nature when a specific ecological message is being highlighted.
This is another term which isn’t common to the USA. Land art was born in the 60s and 70s, and describes art that is made outdoors on the land. Today, some people use land art to mean eco-art, however that may not necessarily be entirely correct. It is, however, thought that land art was an early precursor to the eco-art that we know today.
Eco-art in the community
Eco-art can help bring communities together through their shared respect and love for their environment. Neglected and abandoned spaces can be given new life and purpose.
For example, in New Orleans, urban planner, public installation artist and designer, Candy Chang turned the side of an abandoned house into a giant chalkboard. The local community were invited to share their dreams and hopes by writing them on the board and all responses were documented. This work has inspired people around the world to create walls of their own, and to utilize and give purpose to sites that were once considered as useless.
So you see, eco-art serves to highlight environmental issues within communities, and while it doesn’t necessarily make a huge immediate change to the earth, it can make a difference in terms of our thinking and our actions. That can only be a good thing.
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