Impressionist art

The Role of Art in Environmentalism

03 Sep 2020

From ancient cave paintings to Goya’s haunting ‘Los Caprichos’ to Banksy’s satirical graffiti, art is a powerful tool for spreading ideas, sharing knowledge, and shaping how we think and act as a collective whole.


The world got thrown into turmoil recently with the outbreak of COVID-19. During that period we relied a lot on our essential workers to care for our sick and keep countries going. It was also during that period that we noticed an article published in a Singaporean newspaper that said, according to a survey, being an artist top of ‘non-essential' job list, which made us sad.

OK granted it was a tiny survey and, as the paper pointed out, wasn’t saying actually saying that artists are valueless, but it did get us thinking about the role that art plays within society and also in our fight against the climate crisis.


“The times they are a-changin’”


Art is made for a number of reasons. Sometimes it exists for its own sake, a technical exercise in whatever medium the artist has chosen. Often it’s to entertain others and tell a story. Again this might be for the sheer fun of it, but sometimes there’s a deeper meaning behind a piece of art. Something that the artist or artists care deeply about and wants to express through their work.

Throughout history art, in the form of drawing, literature, sculpture, music, dance, theatre, movies, video games, memes (they’ve been around for longer than you think) has been a way of expressing new ideas, beliefs and emotions. It shapes cultures and attitudes, often making the world a little brighter as well.

Many musicians choose to highlight social issues through their music

If you don’t get the reference, the section title is the name of a famous Bob Dylan song with powerful, civil rights movement inspired lyrics. Well worth a listen!


“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers”


Artists are by their very nature different thinkers, processing the world around them and expressing it in new and interesting ways. The natural world has always been a strong influence on artists. The oldest known painting, dating back to 40,000BC, looks to this writer to be of an Ox (the animal is actually unknown).

It’s no surprise, then, that a lot of concerned artists worldwide are incorporating messages into their work that warn against nature's destruction and attempt to help people understand it. Often these works are interacted with by millions of people around the globe.


THE END, Trafalgar Square, London

Above is a photo, taken by yours truly, of the latest installation on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. It’s called ‘THE END’ by Heather Phillipson; it’s a bit unsettling and there’s a reason for that.

First of all, the drone is a warning against the threat of state intervention and oppressing liberties, and you can actually watch the live footage.

Second, the unstable ice cream and bloated insect are a warning against our use of resources and our ‘co-habitation with other life-forms, to apocalyptic proportions’. Not very cheery, but you don’t forget it.

For a more positive spin on things, the Black Panther movie (you might recognise the quote from the section title) depicts a thriving future society that is in harmony with the environment and is free from racial prejudices. Through the magic of cinema, we’re allowed to explore something of what a better future could look like.

At its core, art is powerful for building bridges between people and highlighting topics, like climate change and environmental destruction, that might be unknown or difficult to understand.


“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone”


“Art and culture will be crucial to cultivating long-term attitudes and behaviours. They are foundational in shaping our collective direction of travel, from the kinds of laws we make, to the technology we develop, to the way we think about our role in shaping the future.” - Ella Saltmarshe.

This is starting to sound like the most flower child article we’ve ever written, but hopefully those of you who voted against artists in that survey (we know it wasn’t you really) you’ll now pause to consider where you put artists in the grand scheme of things.

Plus, imagine a world without art. Yuk.

To all your artists out there passionately creating and promoting causes you care about, we salute you too!


If you have any questions or fun ideas regarding this (or anything really) feel to get in touch with Emilia Cullborg, editor and head of community outreach.

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