by Andrew Dean
It is increasingly difficult for artists to ignore social and global influences, to avoid messaging in their work without the outside world creeping in. Searching for inspiration in a rapidly expanding interconnected world produces a sense that everything permeates everything. Artists’ inspiration is more often than not an accumulation, an assemblage of outside influences spotlighting challenges of our time. Undeniably, climate change is at the forefront of new and innovative work by artists around the globe.
The ice is melting, oceans are polluted with plastic, and rainforests are being scorched by the hectare to accommodate expanding beef consumption. Human activity is fueling global climate shifts that are poised to affect nearly every living being on earth, arguably much sooner than later. Findings presented by climate experts rely on statistics and quantitative communication often leaving the public disengaged or simply left without enough of an emotional response to truly make a change. Scientists, and the planet, would benefit from more captivating and gripping methods to capture the public in the realities of climate change through emotion and provocation. The moment humanity reaches a turning point vis-à-vis climate change is also the moment individuals collectively develop authentic attachments to the climate crises.
This is where the role of the artist may emerge as pivotal to our time. Artists offer ambitious and provocative ways of telling this story. Artists have a chance to captivate the public in the realities and perils of climate change while posing the most important questions. Artists have focussed on capturing the trauma and ghastly effects of climate change, but more significantly acting as change agents and partners with climate researchers and activists. This work is much more successful at conveying and appealing to emotional responses that can ultimately help trigger the public to determine how climate change directly affects their lives, and more importantly how their lives directly influence climate change. Where science and activism alone are not always successful, art often stirs responses enough to invoke real awareness, empathy, and change.
Is it the artist’s role and responsibility to create art that has a lasting positive impact on future generations around critical issues like climate change?
Contemporary art is defined by the world and experiences in which artists work in just as it is defined by colors, lines, and shapes. Artists of the last half-century produce work rooted in the context of their time and place. The work channels cultural influences and global challenges, looking forward towards a post-digital world. Contemporary art is stillborn in personal expression, but not without the context of the happenings of time and place.
The role of the artist is often defined, shattered, and reinvented. Artists propel art onward attesting to what art was, challenging what it is, and evolving what it can and should be. The role of the artist has transformed from an observer documenting a world we have no control over to a role expressing one’s experience within that world. The role of the artist today engages with ideas, unequivocally is based in context, and reflects humanity’s opportunity to influence our own fate – or to intervene in the human experience at the very least. Art-making is no longer just colors, lines, and shapes but an attempt to ask and answer the pressing questions; art as climate justice and activism.
It is not the responsibility of artists to solve the problems we face. It never will be. Contemporary art does not have to be full of intent to create a certain impact, however, its very nature is rooted in a global and experiential context. This motivates change, incites thought, and triggers emotion-provoking questions for all who view and participate. Artists become climate activists when concepts and aesthetics focus on issues like climate change. Artists make work with lasting impact when digging into critical issues, like climate change.
Daan Roosegaarde, Dutch Artist and Activist makes work connecting people, technology, and art focusing on “improving life in urban environments, sparking imagination and fighting the climate crisis.” The work takes on the idea of dreamscapes as well as practical and sustainable ‘liveability of our future landscapes.” Daan Roosegaarde develops new collective eco-social values of clean air, water, energy, and spaces using ‘light as our language.” The mantra, “Creativity is our true capital” permeates each project.
Roosegaarde collaborated with agriculturalists and botanists to create the 20,000 square meters GROW (2021), a dreamscape of red and blue lights illuminating a field of leeks. This installation was inspired by the science of our time, exploring ‘recipes’ or light combinations to improve rates of growth, health, and resilience in agricultural plants, and dream-like landscapes of the future. Red and blue LED light at various wavelengths to shine on leek crops boosting strength and immunity in the plants while pushing the boundaries of installation and intervention art.
GROW demonstrates the innate harmony between nature, humans, ever-changing landscapes, and the boundlessness of contemporary art aimed at inspiring all who engage to participate in experiencing innovation. “GROW is the dreamscape which shows the beauty of light and sustainability. Not as a utopia but as a protopia, improving step by step.”- Daan Roosegaarde
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Climate change is changing art and is changing earth as we know it. Contemporary art is still a personal expression but is also all about context. Artists have a harder and harder challenge to create without allowing the happenings of the outside world to permeate the work. Artists around the world are making new and innovative work that strikes at the heart of climate change evoking emotions and posing questions. As we progress, as art progresses, so does the role of the artist and the impact the work will have on our future.
Andrew Dean has a Master of Arts in Education from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts in Art Education and Cultural Anthropology from The College of New Jersey. Andrew works as a public school art teacher, a community art programming director, and an educational and arts management consultant. He believes contemporary art has the opportunity to reach audiences of all ages, abilities, and identities. He strives to support and connect budding artists to the greater community.