Environmental artists have been praised not only for great works they create, but also for raising awareness about environmental problems our planet faces... Environmental art is a very broad term, and it includes a number of different practices and movements. Land art, Earth art, Sustainable art, Conceptual Art – these are only a few movements that can be described as environmental art as well. That is why environmental artists are using a wide range of media, techniques and styles. Even Claude Monet is often described as an environmentalist for his famous paintings where the creators explored humans’ relation to nature (London Series paintings, for example).
As a movement, environmental art emerged in the 1960s when famous individuals such as Nils Udo, Jean-Max Albert and Piotr Kowalski paved the way for this form of art expression. They have been continuously creating environment-related work since then thus spreading the ideas of environmental art. Speaking about them, it’s important to make a distinction between those who are not focused so much on environmental issues and those who are part of this movement particularly aiming to explore relations between nature and the human world, aiming to raise awareness toward ecological problems. Some famous land creatives, such as Christo and Robert Smithson (who made the famous Spiral Jetty) were criticized for permanent ecological damage some of their pieces had caused. However, working within the field of arts, many of them have spent a lot of time exploring the relationship between mankind's world and the natural environment.
In general, there is no strict definition of environmental art. However, many environmental artists help us to understand nature; environmental art is concerned with environmental forces and materials; it re-envisions humans’ relations with nature and remediates damaged environments. In addition, one of the main characteristics of environmental art is that is usually created for one particular place, cannot be moved, and obviously cannot be exhibited in museums or galleries. But, there are exceptions, as environmental artists use a wide range of different techniques in order to elevate environment art to new grounds.
Editors’ Tip: Land and Environmental Art
The book Land and Environmental Art is edited by Jeffrey Kastner. The author describes the whole history of this movement, starting with the traditional landscape genre that was radically transformed in the 1960s. The author describes the art of Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson. This book fully documents the 1960s Land Art movement and surveys examples of Environmental Art to the present day. Brian Wallis (the contributor) discusses the key names, pieces and issues that define Land Art historically, as well as its later ramifications. Earthworks, environments, performances and actions by names ranging from Ana Mendieta in the 1970s and 80s to Peter Fend in the 1990s are illustrated with great photographs, sketches and project notes.
Apart from being one of the most important theoreticians of Minimalism, Robert Morris is also known as one of the most important environmental artists. He is better known as a conceptualist, sculptor, but many of his land and environmental art projects concern environmental issues. For example, during the 1970s, Morris began creating figurative art, much of it dealing with the fear of a nuclear war. One of his most notable land art pieces is The Observatory, located in Flevoland, in the Netherlands. This environment art piece is known for its references to Stonehenge in England.
Featured Images: Robert Morris - Observatorium
Chris Jordan is a Seattle-based artist who used to be a lawyer. This environmental artist became recognized for his photographs depicting garbage and other “products” of consumerist culture. His pieces can be quite shocking. He combines photography with technology and digital tools creating artworks that Jordan himself describes as "slow-motion apocalypse". Jordan’s art reminds us how easily we destroy our environment and our planet.
Featured Images: Chris Jordan - Albatross chick on Midway Island, detail (courtesy of inland360.com); Chris Jordan
Agnes Denes is a Hungarian-born conceptual artist living and working in New York City. Often called “the grandmother” of the early environmental art movements, Denes is interested in humans’ perception of natural cycles and stewardship. Without any doubt, her most famous environmental art project is Wheatfield, a Confrontation from 1982. Denes spent six months creating it, which included planting a field of golden wheat on two acres of a rubble-strewn landfill near Wall Street in Manhattan.
Featured Images: Agnes Denes - Wheatfield, a Confrontation (courtesy of observer.com); Agnes Denes (courtesy of nytimes)
Edith Meusnier is a French textile and environmental artist. Through her art, Meusnier examines the notions of sustainability and vulnerability. Her textile installations are placed outdoors, in places such as castles’ parks, the cloisters of monasteries, parks in front of museums. She starts every new project by choosing specific location, since different settings defines her installations. Her pieces are highly colored, often joyful, however questioning important themes, such as public space and art, sustainability and other environment-related issues.
Featured Image: Edith Meusnier - Artwork
Nils-Udo is one of the main figures of the environmental art movements. He has been creating this form of art for decades now and he is known for creating “utopias” in nature, trying to prove that they can be real. As the artist explains: Even if I work parallel to nature and only intervene with the greatest possible care, a basic internal contradiction remains. It is a contradiction that underlies all of my work, which itself can't escape the inherent fatality of our existence. It harms what it touches: the virginity of nature...To realize what is possible and latent in Nature, to literally realize what has never existed, utopia becomes reality. A second life suffices. The event has taken place. I have only animated it and made it visible.
Featured Images: Nils-Udo in 2011; Nils-Udo - Artwork detail (courtesy of nsconover.com)
British-born artist Andy Goldsworthy is another famous environmental artist who creates site-specific installations using materials such as mud, twigs, snow, colorful flowers. Goldsworthy is also an environmentalist. His works can be found in urban areas and in natural setting. This is how Goldsworthy characterizes his art: Movement, change, light, growth, and decay are the life-blood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work.
Featured Images: Andy Goldsworthy (courtesy of sailingdog.org); Andy Goldsworthy - Artwork (courtesy of therongolianstar.com)
Red Earth creates site-specific work interacting with the landscape: performances, installations and participatory events. Led by artists and co-directors Caitlin Easterby and Simon Pascoe, the group has produced works in Europe, Java, Japan and Mongolia. What is particularly interesting about the art of this group is their collective and participatory approach towards art creation. They collaborate and work not only with other arts creatives, but with geologists, activists, archaeologists, and so on.
Featured Image courtesy of blackmag.com. All Images used for illustrative purposes only.