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Movements, Styles, and Tendencies Environmental Art

Environmental Art

Environmental Art Collage

Started: 1960s

"We often forget that WE ARE NATURE. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we've lost our connection to ourselves"

Andy Goldsworthy

Summary

Since primitive man first illustrated streaks of rain and lightning on the interior walls of their cave homes, artists have been entranced with depicting our natural environment. Yet, for centuries, the landscape's appearance in art was meant to construe either awe for our natural world, or as a background subject for the documentation of human narratives. In the 20th century, alongside rising global concerns surrounding the state of the environment's health, and our impact as humans upon it, many artists started creating works in collaboration with the physical world to draw attention to ecological issues as well our relationship and contribution to them. As a more defined concept, Environmental art has gained more traction since the 1990s when artists began to think about their surroundings not just in terms of lived or built space, but as a cohesive system in which humans have a central part to play.

Key Ideas

Environmental artists seek to investigate our human relationship with the environment through embedding their artistic practice within it. This changes the way we think about the site of artistic production; as opposed to using the artist's studio as the sole location in which to create, Environmental artists engage the natural world in a much more active and immediate way either by working in new ways outside, or by bringing natural materials into new settings.
Environmental artists aim to work in harmony with the natural environment rather than disrupt it. This means they deeply consider the impact that they as individuals have on nature and do not sacrifice its health or wellbeing in order to create work. Moreover, by working in collaboration with organic landscapes, Environmental artists fall subject to the uncontrollable cycles of the seasons with their processes of flowering, erosion, molding, and decay.
Environmental artists often use natural materials such as leaves, flowers, branches, ice, soil, sand, stone, and water as the very basis of their artwork. Moreover, in choosing to situate their work in specific places, Environment art often seeks to both transform the way that the site is viewed, whilst also revealing what was already there. This demands that viewers and audiences rethink how they "see" the world around them and pay more direct attention to the minute and distinct parts that make up what we may overlook as a cohesive environment.
Evolving from Land Art, Environmental art also rethinks the importance of the exhibition space and seeks other places where art can happen and where art can exist. This form of Institutional Critique seeks to question the authority and power of museums and galleries that have historically controlled the production, sale, and viewing of art works. By looking for new and sometimes unique and surprising locations, artists not only remove the power from high-powered art-dealers, buyers, and from the art-market in general, but also question the need for an audience (and art buyers) at all. Instead, artists emphasise the birth of the idea and the process of creation, without insisting that the work needs to be seen by many people, or indeed by anyone at all.
Environmental Art Image

Beginnings:

Environmental art, also known as ecological art, encompasses several different forms and practices that engage with, and represent the environment. It is distinct in its less specific time period and greater scope of art. As Professor John E. Thornes noted, "Environmental art is [...] a new genre to describe works of art that are not only directly representational of the environment (the 19th century wonders such as John Constable's Cloud Series, Claude Monet's London Series, or Paul C├ęzanne's Mont Sainte Victoire Series), but also works of art that are clearly nonrepresentational and performative in terms of much less direct interpretation but more active engagement of the audience such as Richard Long's A Line Made by Walking or James Turrell's Skyspaces.

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