What Is Environmental Art?


We're unwilling to rate art because it's classified as High or Low, Fine or Folk, Craft or Decorative, digitally created, filmed, or performed in the rainforest. Even bypassing those categories, it's hard to decide what makes Art "environmental"? TreeHugger has no resident critic (thank goodness); so we'll pursue this question by example. In the film category one is preminently relevant and beautiful: Koyaanisqatsi. If you haven't seen it, you must. Colin recently posted about how Mr. Gore has seemingly impressed the art film crowd with a documentary of his speech on climate change. We were wondering if this could be thought of as performance art?Landscape painting is of course a very old tradition in Europe. In North America, the so-called Hudson River painters, "helped to shape the mythos of the American landscape," but with an often romaticised view.


Modern landscape painting ranges from the representational to the abstract, as in this print by Terri Zupanc.

Some visual artists have taken to distributing a large portfolio in digital form, such as Andy Goldsworthy's River and Tides DVD. We've posted on Christian Hahn's paintings, which address climate change, and also on artists who recyle guns into sculpture.

We interviewed furniture maker and sculptor Julienne Dolphin Wilding who uses reclaimed wood for much of her work and even posted an overview piece on the role of art in activism and public awareness building.

The New York Times recently carried a story about a nucleus of outdoor sculpture gardens, artists' studios and an experimental architecture project called Ecoshack located in the desert East of Los Angeles near Joshua Tree National Monument. Inspired by nature seems to be the key thought for this collective effort.

Speaking of architecture, the Grandfather of ecologically integrated-architecture in the US, and perhaps the world, is Frank Lloyd Wright, especially as manifested in his Prairie period, where entire buildings were constructed of just a few locally produced native materials. Partly earth sheltered, solar heated structures were roofed with native plants in FLW designs over 50 years ago. Many of Wright's designs are as reverently protected as a rennaisance painting in a musuem, drawing tourists and scholars from all over the world.

Treehugger has covered many green design projects; but we're doubtful that very many would be classed as 'works of art', in spite of the creativity and extra investments that went into them. So much of the green building movement these days is about the pragmatism of energy and material efficiency that the art and beauty aspects tend to be overlooked. Perhaps our readers have a contrary example?

We'll hold off on music as environmental art form for a future post.

Tentative conclusion: environment as a direct subject has crept into nearly every corner of the arts. Should be interesting to see if broadcast television starts to include more environmental themes and plots in entertainment.