MFA Thesis

This paper addresses the relevancy of art in the era of climate change. It discusses the role of the artist in the movement towards a sustainable future, looking through four thematic lenses. These provide insight into artistic practice and theory addressing climate change, focusing on my work and its context. Each theme constitutes a section of the paper and is broken down further into chapters. The question of ethical responsibility of an artist to engage pressing political issues is not the focus of this paper. I establish in the introduction that addressing current political issues is an artistic choice. This document examines how artists approach political issues, and climate change specifically, and how art contributes to the dialogue surrounding such an issue.

The first theme of the paper is environmental science. I investigate the similarities and differences between artists and scientists and how they can collaborate. Both disciplines can and should inform each other for more fruitful work. Artists can create new forms and ways of seeing to inspire scientists, while scientists uncover data that can be shared with artists. One way that artists participate in seeking climate change solutions is through the current Do It Yourself movement. The historical background for this movement is briefly explained and artists appropriating the D.I.Y. aesthetic are mentioned. The Land Artists, Environmental Artists, and contemporary artists working closely with science are reviewed.

Section two looks at activism in relation to creating art that engages the political. Through the philosophy of Jacques Rancière, I discuss how art can contribute to changing societal perceptions about the problem of climate change, arguing that poetic methods are vital. The work of current Eco-Artists and photographers is analyzed. This section also addressed the question of art’s futility in the midst of such crises as climate change, recalling Adorno’s changing theories about this dilemma.

The poetic and narrative constitute the third section, which includes chapters on the poetic, storytelling, the temporal, and humor. Each of these chapters represents an artistic tool that can be used in address- ing climate change. Both the narrative and humor provide access points for the viewer to enter the work. One of the beauties of poetry is the possibility of different readings of the same text. This section examines video and multi-media artists, filmmakers, and artists who engage communities.

The final section on the aesthetic looks more closely at materials, media, and color. It then discusses theories of beauty from Plato, Kant, Schiller, Arthur Danto, Dave Hickey, and Elaine Scarry. Beauty can be used as a tool of seduction, a point of connection, and a means to freedom.

This paper concludes that art can and should be part of the green revolution, working alongside science to create new ways of living in a changing world. Art can do so in a wide variety of ways, including a poetic approach. This approach can include narrative, humor, and beauty as well as scientific information and inspiration.

Please contact me if you’d like a PDF of the full paper.