Climate Change and Visual Arts
Climate change affects humans and natural environments today and particularly in the future. Visual arts provide tools to spur social change and process and overcome emotions that come with climate change. Instead of a passive approach, arts encourage us to engage and take action. Therefore, visual arts play a key role in understanding climate change in-depth and creating a climate-friendly world.
Visual Arts as a Tool for Social Change
Art is a diverse tool to promote social change in a smaller or larger scale, practical or abstract manner, through communication, critical thinking and action.
Art and Emotions
Often, the purpose of the creative process is to conceptualize, express and put things into context. Art helps us to absorb abstract, contradictory and complex experiences. Finding the right answers is not as important as finding the right questions and exploring human existence.
Artists and Climate Change
Many visual artists are participating in climate debates through their work. Here is a list of some of them:
Otto Karvonen’s Signs for Changing Climate has custom-made traffic signs that warn about rising sea levels and carbon emissions produced by average Finns.
Nestori Syrjälä’s video Raimo S is the story of a retired secretary of state, Raimo Sailas, played by an actor, who is trying to come to terms with the politics of global warming. Syrjälä also has other works about climate change, such as an installation WINTER, which consists of a large pile of artificial snow constructed in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki.
In various installations Isaac Cordal’s miniature sculptures have addressed climate change directly. One of these interventions is a larger installation called Follow the Leaders that was performed in Berlin in 2011. http://cementeclipses.com/Works/follow-the-leaders/
The public art installation Nuage Vert (Green Cloud) by Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen projected green laser light onto a vapour cloud emitted from the Salmisaari power plant every night for a week in February 2008. This provided a means for communicating energy use in Helsinki. http://www.pixelache.ac/pages/nuage-vert-vihrea-pilvi-e35f94a9-34ee-4523-b189-e75b918dd203
Jill Pelto’s watercolour artworks on nature incorporate scientific data and graphs of climate change. http://www.jillpelto.com/gallery/
Bjargey Olafsdottir’s giant Red Polar Bear painted on a glacier raises awareness of the threat climate change poses to polar bears. http://www.bjargey.com/
Banksy painted his climate statement on a canal wall in London after the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/dec/21/banksy-copenhagen-regents-canal
Artists Olaf Eliasson and Minik Thorleif Rosing brought 80 tonnes of ice blocks harvested from a fjord outside Greenland to the Place du Panthéon, where they melted away during the United Nations Climate Change Conference. http://icewatchparis.com/
Check the Facts
Effective climate change education is a combination of facts, skills, values and emotions. Investing time in scientific fact checking in art class is not always necessary, but it’s important that teachers have accurate information to avoid reinforcing common but incorrect notions. One way to do this is to collaborate with other subject teachers. It ensures that students will get the facts straight and they can then concentrate on discussing and making art.
Climate change is linked to many other environmental issues. In order to solve them sufficiently, we need to get to the bottom of the problems and find the best solutions. The banning of chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants is helping to save the ozone layer, but it does not help to prevent climate change. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch causes significant harm to wildlife, but it does not have anything to do with climate change.
Although littering is an ever-increasing global problem, which can be partly solved by improving recycling, it does not matter much when it comes to climate change. This is why the Teacher’s Climate Guide does not include instructions on recycling installations or trash art. They play their own role in environmental education, but climate change education benefits more from the above mentioned examples of art.