So, by this point, I think it’s pretty clear that we, the humans, have messed up on a pretty grand scale. You don’t need me to read you the stats again. We need several more planets. We make and consume a lot of crap. There are islands of crap in the ocean. There’s crap in the rivers, crap in our bodies, crap in the air. All of this crap is difficult to digest, you know, on a daily level. Nobly, many artists are facing this pile of crap and trying to make compost from it. Problem is, some eco-art is actually pretty crappy.
It’s pretty fabulous that there’s such a large amount of environmental art out there that some of it is less than great. It’s like having a surplus tomato harvest or something. And just like gleaners love ugly tomatoes, there is an audience for all eco-art.
But just as we must increase our awareness of the ecological landscape, there is a need for artists to be aware of their own cultural landscape. It includes TV, the internet, the guy at the liquor store, a lot of statistics about our impact on the planet, and other eco-art. In fact, let me point out a few eco-art memes that are emerge so frequently they are actually cliché.
1. Rock Stackers. Your skills are amazing. You can stack rocks higher and prettier than I ever could. You’re even kinda like Andy Goldsworthy, yes, of course. And I’m sure the process is amazing for you, and that the stones talk to you, and you get that beautiful in-tune-with-nature hum. But I’ve see so many rock stacks at this point they blur together. My eyes glaze over.
2. Tr-art. This is a combination of terms: “trite trash art.” Thank you for rescuing all of those bottle caps, six pack rings, and other crap from the landfill. Thanks for making them into portraits, blankets, sculptures and people. Trash is now a viable medium. But you are not always making eco-art: sometimes you just happen to make art with trash. Conversely: just because you made it with trash doesn’t mean it is powerful art.
3. Statistic-a-thon. Recycling one can saves enough power to watch 6 episodes of Law and Order. At this rate all of our children will be dead in 20 years. We need 16 more planets if we want to keep watching Comedy Central. Etcetera, etcetera. I am so inundated with guilt-soaked statistics. Stop finding new ways to slap me in the face with them. If it’s powerful to you then help me understand why. See: Chris Jordan, who does an excellent job of making numbers real.
4. Eco-Snobbery. As a recovering eco-snob myself, I understand how hard it is to stop calling everyone out on their perpetual green sins. It sucks. There are to-go containers everywhere, and everyone drives, and not everyone composts, and what the hell?!?! The icebergs, people! The icebergs! But just because you make eco-art does not mean you have license to aggrandize. We’re a population of pots and kettles. Don’t mistake your good work for a kind of personal superiority. This is true of green culture in general, but it’s especially apparent in accusatory or guilt-trippy art.
I’m not here to Make Better Propaganda, or Tell You Your Responsibility as an Artist. Hell no. You do you own thing, whether that’s making muffler men or the world’s most vibrational rock stack. But here’s my personal note:
I cannot live in a perpetual state of emergency. It’s stressful and exhausting. I will also not be dropping everything to live in the woods and survive off of ethereal vibrations and the kindness of woodland creatures. My family will not join me, and besides, I don’t get along well with squirrels. I can, however, examine my relationship to the planet. I can understand ways in which I have forgotten, neglected and abused it, and attempt to correct or remedy those things. I can do that through environmental art. Awesome? Awesome.