Thoughts on Art and Sustainability

There are three sorts of people involved in building any better society: first, there are those ideas people who dream it up, then there are those daring pioneers who go there first and show others the way and finally there are those who come in and build, in a practical way, upon what the first two groups have done. This is of course a huge oversimplification but the point is that people do approach change in different ways and all of the above are needed for change to happen. Artists can fit into all of the above categories.

In terms of changing the world and working towards a more sustainable future, we tend to think first of scientists, engineers, those who have the tools and understand the building blocks. Secondarily, we think of politicians and policy makers – those whose decisions can make or break us.  What we sometimes forget, I think, is that forging sustainable communities is a hugely important part of achieving real and lasting change and art and artists can be a vital part of creating and maintaining those communities.

As a writer, I think about permaculture, ecology and sustainable living a lot. I mostly write travel articles (specialising in eco tourism, alternative travel, camping, hiking and generally enjoying the natural world) and much of what I write is intended to educate and inform. So when I think about the role of art in creating sustainable communities, I tend to think about it in those terms: art as a tool to engage and teach people things.

Art can indeed be used as tool to educate, inform and engage and what is more it can move the reader or audience. No matter whether you happen to be a writer, a photographer, a painter, a sculptor or a musician, no matter what media you use you can help to spread the message about sustainability and can make it stick in people’s minds.

But this is not the only way in which art can help us in creating sustainable communities. Art is also a way of exploring our common humanity. Creativity can forge bonds and connections that would not be possible in quite the same way in a purely concrete and literal world.  Creative writing or art therapy sessions can help make a group of people closer and also allow them to air any grievances and let out their emotions in a healthy way. Art can enliven a community’s surroundings and inspire them in everyday ways.

Artists can truly be catalysts for change. Thinking again about the three groups of people needed for change, we can see what an important role artists have to play. Artists use creativity to dream up new ideas and so fall into the first category of people needed to bring about change. Artists can also be radical, daring – their creativity will often encourage them to forge a new path and so they can also be pioneers. Lastly, art can help in practical ways to create common bonds and keep a community going. It can design new systems and dream up sensible and sustainable new ways of doing things and, crucially, it can communicate those ideas effectively.

It seems that artists all have an important role to plan in the radical change that is so desperately needed.

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