Artists' Answers to Question: 'What Matters Most?'

ecoartspace what matters most exhibit photo

A sampling of work produced for the Ecoartspace benefit show. Clockwise from top left: Joseph Smolinski, "Oil and Water," 2010, courtesy Mixed Greens Gallery; Paul Miller (aka D.J. Spooky), "Manifesto for a People's Republic of Antarctica," 2009, courtesy Robert Miller Gallery; Aviva Rahmani, "Water Matters: A Beautiful View #9," 2010.

Back in February, environmental journalist Andrew Revkin asked various luminaries, and readers of his Dot Earth blog, a profoundly simple question: "What matters most?" The responses have now served as inspiration for artists displaying their work at a new exhibition in New York City.Revkin posed his question as part of a collaboration with Ecoartspace, an organization that works to address and prompt discuss about environmental issues through the visual arts, hoping to draw responses that could "provide inspiration or provocation to the artists in their work." Plenty of big thinkers weighed in with thought-provoking replies:

'Redefining Our Relationship With the Planet'
"What matters most has not changed over time: the quest for dignity, justice, and peace, the essential yearnings for hope and human compassion, the desire to build a better life for our children.... What has changed is our ability to provide a decent life for this and future generations on a planet that is under increasing, severe strain," wrote United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "We need to redefine our relationship to the planet, and in so doing, build a more equitable society for all."

Some, such as ocean activist Sylvia Earle, had specific environmental priorities:

Exploring and protecting the ocean tops my list.... What we have put [in the sea] in just half a century -- hundreds of millions of tons of noxious wastes -- and what we have taken out -- hundreds of millions of tons of wild creatures -- have changed the nature of the systems that drive climate and weather, generate most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, regulate temperature, and otherwise are the foundation of our life support. No blue, no green; no ocean, no life. If we fail to take care of the ocean, nothing else matters.

while others, such as biologist David Suzuki, called for more philosophical change:

In the 21st century, we must rediscover our place in nature, downscale our demands on her while protecting the wild that remains and restoring the rest.

More than 100 readers also added their thoughts to the discussion, expressing wishes for "a good enough future for the children," the "courage to face...the climate crisis," and for "'the haves' to learn to live with less." These and other visions have been interpreted by more than 250 artists, whose works go on display April 15 at Exit Art in New York City. A benefit party and sale will be held April 28 for those who want a reminder of "What Matters Most" in life to hang on their wall.

More on environmental art:
What the Heck is Eco-Art? 10 Ways to Appreciate It
Toxic Chemicals Make Beautiful, Haunting Art
'Aesthetic Power Plants' to Make Energy from Art
Man and Nature: Art in the Age of Climate Change
How Can Eco-Art Inspire Change?
An Ice Artist's Poignant Plea to Halt Global Warming
8 Amazing Environmental Artworks (Slideshow)
Top 5 Environmental Artists Shaking Up the Art World
Chicago's Columbia College Hosts Challenging Environmental Art Show

Related Content on