Art and the Environment


As artists, we always like to think that our artwork is doing something to help. Whether it's for personal enjoyment or for the enticement of the general public, we never intend for our art to have a negative impact on anything. That being said, our drawings use paper and our sculptures call for metals and larger quantities of wood or rock. With new modern practices like neon, our artwork starts getting into chemicals and glass. Now with the emerge of 3D printed artwork, we start looking at plastics that are impossible for the world to break down in a natural setting. With all this in mind, it brings of the questions of, “Is the creation and making of art an environmentally friendly process?”
Since the dawn of art, artists have always called upon their surrounding environment to create artwork. Cavemen used animal blood in a more primitive way to honor the animals or to paint directions for hunting. As time goes on, man resorts to other materials for creation. Sculptures often made works of marble bronze, sometimes even dabbling in goldsmithing, while painters and drawers often relied on berries and soot with an egg mixed in for painting material. “Following a tradition begun in Stone Age cave painting, Italian Renaissance artists employed natural chalks made from mineral pigments for drawing. Excavated from the earth, then shaped into sticks with knives, these chalks were instantly ready for use. Red chalks, with their rich, warm hue, were very popular from about 1500 to 1900, as exemplified in works by famous Old Masters like da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.” (Pigments through the Ages)
In fact, it wasn't until 1841 that the metal paint tube was invented. Up until that point, the artist was pretty self sufficient with their paints, only creating/using the paint that they needed, when they needed it. The creation of paint tubes led to longer lasting paint which was easier to travel with and more readily accessible to the public. “As a result, the turn of the century saw the introduction of several new paints - pigments such as Mars reds (synthetic red ochre) chrome orange, and chrome yellow.” (Pigments through the Ages) Not only with this invention, but with the birth of the industrial era, every art form was revolutionized, and little thought was given to side effects that these products might bring. It was all about how to make things more practical and affordable for the ease of the artist. “Latex paint is recyclable, but oil-based paint is considered household hazardous waste (HHW) and should be disposed of at your local HHW facility. In most states, it is illegal to throw oil-based paints in the trash.” (Earth 911)
Now in modern art practice, most artists you'll speak too probably own a set of oil paints in tubes. With the art world population growing, that's just more paint, marble, bronze, paper, etc being used to create art. “ The United States produced about 20,700,000 tons of paper last year, which… [sic] means that 55 to 110 million trees were cut down” Every artist in every medium uses paper at some point for their work. Whether it be for preliminary sketches or poetry, at some point their is a draft created on paper for new and upcoming art pieces. It is at that point where the question of the sustainable art practices are brought up. Is the large consumption of paper in the art community harmful to rainforests? Is it ethical to continue to create beautiful oil paintings if it means that the paint tubes will end up becoming non-erodible waste?
Looking at the sculptural end of the spectrum, you begin to look at quarries where bronze and marble can be mined. “Underground mining has the potential for tunnel collapses and land subsidence (Betournay, 2011). It involves large-scale movements of waste rock and vegetation, similar to open pit mining. Additionally, like most traditional forms of mining, underground mining can release toxic compounds into the air and water. As water takes on harmful concentrations of minerals and heavy metals, it becomes a contaminant. This contaminated water can pollute the region surrounding the mine and beyond (Miranda, Blanco-Uribe Q., Hernandez, Ochoa G., & Yerena, 1998)”. (Future of Strategic National Resources)
The bottom line is that most art practices involve components that aren't the more green or environmentally friendly. However, that doesn't mean that artists aren't thinking about these things when they are creating artwork. In the sculpture room in the Art building at ASU, there are scrap piles for most materials used. That eliminates the need to go out and buy more material and, in most cases, reduce the amount of material wasted almost in half.
There has also been an emergence of artwork that solely uses recycled goods. The website __www.recyclart.org__ is comprised entirely of artwork and home goods constructed entirely of recycled materials. With the continuous deterioration of the world around us, the category of “sustainable art” has also come into focus. This is a practice where the artist takes into consideration every piece of their work, and what they can do to make the work more eco friendly. The phrase “reduce, reuse and recycle,” is constantly taken into consideration during the conceptual development and craft. Artist Dana Richardson uses sustainable art practices by creating all her oil paints herself when needed. This not only eliminates metal tubes, it's also eliminates the the entire process of metal tubes. While one person creating their own paint doesn't create a significant impact on the environment, it's opening up the conversation of artists becoming more sustainable and could eventually become a trend later on.
The evolution of art is also important to note. In recent years, digital art has made it's presence known in the art world and it's recognition is only growing. While some digital art requires the use of sculptural work, for the most part it has little to no waste. Even with the replacement of computers, “... tech experts generally agree a computer should last anywhere between three to five years before needing to be replaced.” (Koble) Is it possible that digital art could overcome traditional art all together in the efforts for a better planet? The difficulty with that is how difficult it can be to sell digital artwork. “To have a proper market, you need works that are securely limited, signed and numbered,” (David Juda, On Screen and on the Block) One of the perks of a more tradition genre of art is having limited physical copies to sell. Unfortunately with digital art, there is an issue when it comes to free downloads and stolen copyrighted material. Unless you're a rockstar within the art community, it's very difficult to make a living solely off digital art. Until this issue can be resolved, there won’t be a surge of people rushing to become digital artists, At that point the question is asked, “what is the point of digital art being eco friendly if nobody wants to learn it as their craft?”
“While there are some examples of outstanding practice, the arts community has not yet reached a consensus that environmental sustainability matters; and the patchy application of policies and resources, as shown in this report, are evidence of good intentions not matched by actions.” (Julia Bicycle) While art has never been about harming the environment, it's clear that there need to be some sort of thought put into the sustainability of art. Going forward, there needs to be a revolution of green art practices to further reduce the our footprint on the world. It is our job as artists to educate the world with what we create. That needs to start with artists first educating themselves on how to better their art practice. It is at that point where we can start showing the world how to be more eco friendly too.






















Works Cited
Bicycle, Julies. D’Art Report 34b The Arts and Environmental Sustainability: (n.d.): n. pag. The Arts and Environmental Sustainability. IFACCA. Web. 27 Feb. 2017. <http://media.ifacca.org/files/DArt34b.pdf>.
Earth911. "How to Recycle Paint." Earth911.com. PaintCare, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
"Environmental Risks of Mining." Environmental Risks of Mining. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
Koble, Matt. "What Is the Life Span of the Average PC?" SmallBusiness.Chron.com. Chron.com, 24 June 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.
Reyburn, Scott. "On Screen and on the Block." The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 May 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
Shildgen, Bob. "How Much Paper Does One Tree Produce?" Sierra Club. Sierra, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
WebExhibits. "Renaissance and Baroque (1400-1600)." Pigments through the Ages - Renaissance and Baroque (1400-1600). WebExhibits, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.