A Site to Behold: Creating Curricula about Local Urban Environmental Art

By Thurber, Frances E. | Art Education, November 1997 | Go to article overview

A Site to Behold: Creating Curricula about Local Urban Environmental Art


Thurber, Frances E., Art Education


A growing number of contemporary American artists have chosen to focus the content of their work on ecology, the relationship between humans and their environment (Lippard, 1995; Gablik, 1995a). In fact, exploration of ideas relative to art and ecology currently abounds in both rural and urban sectors (Lacy, 1995) . One local effort recently captured my attention as an art educator.

This paper describes Site Omaha, a work of new genre public art, an interactive urban site installation. Also, the paper suggests implications for art curriculum development about art and ecology when using authentic local or regional public art. The issues that emerge have a specific focus on the role of popular culture, interactivity, and increasing community involvement in art education experiences.

In the delicate balance and mutual relationship between organisms and their environment, visual art is one compelling means that human organisms use to express their encounter with that environment. According to Eisner (Getty, 1996), this is a complex relationship for humans. He suggests that humans, with their unique capacity for perceiving, creating, and decoding images, need access to images as a core element in their education in order to encounter and explore significant ideas about the world.

As art educators, whether teaching in an elementary, secondary, or postsecondary setting, we must reach to provide critical and meaning-filled art experiences for our students. Being aware of and using imagery and opportunities provided by contemporary artists who confront ecological and social issues in their ar and who are accessible within our loc, regions, can help us to develop such substantive art curricula. Phillips (1995) states that the newer forms of public and collaborative art provide a means for individuals to develop a deeper understanding and more active commitment to their immediate as well as global environment.

CONTEXT

Since the 1960s, contemporary environmental art in the United States has been varied in its scope and presentation. Such art ranges from issues about human stewardship over the land, oceans, and skies to expressive outcries over the devastation humans are causing across urban and rural landscapes throughout the world (Conant, 1975) . Artists are increasingly emerging from their roles as peripheral, isolated commentators about the condition of world environments and becoming more ecoactivist in their creation of art (Gablik, 1995b).

As artists have become more activist, they have chosen to respond with their art to natural environments, built environments, and even imagined or visionary environments (Chidester & Linenthal, 1995; Beardsley, 1995). Artists such as Andy Goldsworthy (Causey, 1990), Stan Herd (Herd, 1994), Nancy Holt (Steinman, 1995), Robert Smithson, and Walter De Maria (Wheeler, 1991) manipulate aspects of the fragility, temporality, and elusiveness of the natural landscape in their work in order to engage the viewer in rethinking the relationship between viewer, environment, and art.

Perspectives on the personal and psychological aspects of the land, time, and space are explored by artists like Alice Aycock (Wheeler, 1991), Sandy Skoglund (Walker, Krug, & Burkhart, 1996), and Betsy Damon, an ecofeminist artist who has created a series of performance pieces and site works about water issues (Steinman, 1995). Ecofeminists, adopting an ethical stance that links theoretical constructs from both feminism and ecology, believe that a direct correlation exists throughout history between social dominance over women and human dominance over the environment Earmarks of the ecofeminist movement include an ethics based on caring (Hicks & King, 1996), sensitivity to human and ecological diversity, and a unified sense of community (Cuomo, 1997). Ecofeminists actively seek opportunities to inspire social change and to alter the ways that men and women interact with each other and with their environment. …

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