Sustainability is an important issue that affects us all. But what about the art world? Is sustainability an issue here? Unfortunately, the answer is often no. Although there are a few artists and institutions that are committed to sustainability, the majority of the art world remains untouched by this issue. As an artist and someone who loves art, I am interested in exploring the role of art in the sustainability debate. I am constantly aware of the resource consumption of my work. But stopping making art is not an alternative.
So how can we, as creatives, fulfill our responsibility to the environment while continuing to do our best to preserve beauty and expression in the art world? In this blog post, I would like to raise awareness about sustainability in the art world and how creatives and art lovers can contribute to a more sustainable art scene.
An ugly truth: when art pollutes the environment
The world of art and culture is fascinating and diverse, but it also has a downside: high resource consumption. Several studies have looked into this. Among them are a 2019 study by the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA) and a 2018 study by the climate campaign Julie's Bicycle in collaboration with the British arts organization Arts Council England. Both institutes are committed to promoting sustainability in the arts and cultural industries.
The studies conclude that the arts industry produces tons of waste and greenhouse gas emissions each year. In the U.S., the arts industry is responsible for approximately 10% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions, while in the U.K. it produces 5.2 million tons of CO2e annually.
These findings are troubling and show that it is time for artists and arts organizations to incorporate sustainable practices into their work. Despite these challenges, the arts and cultural sector is significant and important. It is an expression of human creativity and an important part of our cultural heritage. Arts and culture are essential to who we are as human beings.
It is therefore important that artists and arts organizations make their work environmentally sound and engage in sustainable practices. This is true for museums and large cultural institutions. But it is also the responsibility of the individual artist. Here are some steps I've taken to make my art more sustainable:
These are my steps for sustainability in art:
Renunciation of Disposable Products
I don’t use tear-off pallets, disposable gloves, kitchen towels, or any other disposable products.
Instead, I use pallets that I can clean or even household packaging that I’ve picked up, and I use my sons’ old t-shirts and old dryer sheets as painting clothes.
I’m not afraid of getting my fingers dirty anyway. With gloves, I would rather protect the paper from the oil of my hands. Just in case, I have cotton gloves or use a cloth to rest my hand on.
Misuse and Reuse
Not every piece of art succeeds on the first try. But instead of throwing the materials away, I give them a second chance. So canvases are repainted, or paper finds a new use in mixed media works. Other materials I can use to safely cushion artwork for shipping. Before buying new tools, I first look around my household for appropriate ones. This is how cake lifters, nail brushes, and dough scrapers have found their way into my studio.
After use, I always clean my painting tools directly and gently. I use environmentally friendly curd soap, which is also good for the brushes. By the way, never dry brushes standing up (in a glass or similar). This is because moisture collects in the ferrule and can lead to rust. It is best to dry them hanging in a brush stand, or lying on an absorbent cloth. So my brushes, painting knives and other painting tools are preserved for a long time and do not have to be constantly replaced.
Stretcher Frame from Sustainable Forestry
I only use canvases on frames made from FSC certified wood. The wood used in cheap stretcher frames is often illegally cut wood that is not seasoned properly and can warp. This is not only annoying because the artwork is then only good for the trash, it is also anything but sustainable.
Much of my work is created on paper. So quality is very important to me. But the environmental balance is also very important to me. That is why I almost exclusively use wood-free paper, especially the environmentally friendly stone paper. I also like to use Hahnemühle artist paper, which is both environmentally friendly and of high quality.
I also pay attention to the quality and environmental compatibility of my paints. Whenever possible, I choose natural pigments with natural binders such as honey. I prefer paints from Sennelier and Schmincke. In the future, however, I plan to mix my own colors to have more control over the ingredients.
I no longer use brushes with real animal hair. Some of the brushes with real animal hair comes from fur farms, which is bad enough because it supports the fur trade. I certainly don't want that. It's even worse when the hair comes from animals that have been hunted with snares. These cause broken bones, lacerations, and dislocated joints, but often do not kill the animal immediately. The death of the animal often takes many hours and is brutal and painful.
Good synthetic brushes now come very close to the properties of brushes with real animal hair. This makes them wonderful for any application. They also absorb less paint, which doesn't have to be washed out later, are easier to clean, and are more durable. All little extra points in terms of sustainability, and on top of that they are cheaper. For me, there is nothing left to say in favor of brushes with real animal hair.
In general, I try to avoid waste whenever possible. So I prefer to take less paint in the beginning, so that I cannot use excess paint later. If there is paint left over, I moisten it and wrap it in packaging foil so that I can use it later for a new painting.
I don't wash off the last bits of acrylic paint, but let them dry. The resulting film is easy to peel off and dispose of. This keeps the acrylic paint out of the drinking water. Speaking of water, I still use water from my hot water bottle for my watercolors.
More opportunities for sustainability in art
Besides these tips, there are other ways to make art sustainable. When possible, I use them.
- Use natural materials such as wood, stone, clay, or natural paints.
- Use reclaimed or recycled materials
- Working with local manufacturers or distributors to minimize shipping distances
- Eliminating unnecessary packaging and using environmentally friendly packaging materials
- Promoting sustainability by incorporating environmental themes into artwork
In addition, I often donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of my artwork to non-profit organizations that promote species conservation, environmental protection and sustainability. Through resource and material stewardship, foresight and planning, we artists can contribute to a sustainable future.
Art as a sustainable impulse generator: Change through inspiration
In recent years, the arts and culture sector has increasingly recognized that it has an environmental responsibility to help address climate change and other environmental challenges. It can also play an important role in promoting sustainable behavior and raising awareness of environmental issues.
Artist Maria Cristina Finucci's installation "Garbage Patch State" is a stunning work that makes an important political statement. The installation is made of recycled plastic waste and reminds us of the sad reality that our oceans are heavily polluted due to the massive use of plastic. The idea for "Garbage Patch State" came from a personal experience of Finucci's. During a sailing trip across the Pacific Ocean, she witnessed firsthand the impact of plastic waste on the environment.
The installation depicts a fictional island formed from the garbage that accumulates in the North Pacific Ocean. It is adorned with flags and coats of arms that are meant to evoke an independent nation - an ironic allusion to the fact that we, as a species, have failed to protect our oceans and have instead created a nation out of plastic waste.
The installation highlights the urgent need to address the pollution of our oceans. Finucci wants to draw attention to the extent of the pollution, while at the same time highlighting a solution. It challenges us to be more conscious of our consumption of plastic products and to find alternative solutions to reduce pollution.
Artist Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty demonstrates how art and sustainability can be combined. Built in 1970 on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, the installation is constructed of natural materials such as earth, salt, and stone. The spiral-shaped jetty extends into the lake, evoking the swirling movement of water.
Spiral Jetty is particularly poignant in its mutability and transience. It is subject to the natural forces of the environment that constantly change and shape it. The work is affected by the tides and the weather, so it is never the same. At high tide, the work is covered by water; only at low tide is it exposed and visible.
The salty air, wind and water of the lake contribute to the weathering of the materials. Eventually, it will be gone forever. The ephemeral nature of Spiral Jetty underscores the importance of change and adaptation in our ever-changing world. It is a work of art that is in harmony with nature and calls attention to the change and transience of life. Spiral Jetty is a powerful example of sustainable art that blends into the environment and uses natural forces to create a visual experience.
These examples show how art can be used as a tool for awareness and change. Art can do so much more than be beautiful and entertaining.
It can help identify and solve social problems. Sustainable art is a powerful reminder that we as a society must take responsibility for our environment and our actions to create a sustainable future.
What do you think about this? Do you have any tips for sustainable art practice? Or do you know of any sustainable artworks or artists that have impressed you? I would love to hear your comments!