Art, Ecology, and Art Education: Practices & Linkages

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Are art and ecology linked, and if so, how? Two traditional linkages between art and ecology have dominated up to now: (1) ecology has been viewed as nature and has served either as a background in art or as the major theme in landscape art, and (2) art is a tool for illustrating ecological concerns and a technology for conveying messages about ecology. Art & Ecology was a col loquium that questioned pre-existing premises about linkages between art and ecology and suggested implications for art education curriculum. The colloquium was sponsored, in part, by the Getty Education Institute for the Arts and several Ohio arts organizations and institutions, including the Department of Art Education at The Ohio State University. Don Krug of that department directed the colloquium. Several guest artists, art education faculty, and local experts elaborated on colloquium topics. In this paper I tell a partial story of the colloquium as a participant and observer. My interpretation of participants' written and oral comments explores their understanding of ecology, the relationship of art to ecology, and interdisciplinary and community-based ecological art education.

The colloquium encouraged participants to work collaboratively in addressing particular environmental concerns in their community as well as to:

Understand the ecological nature of environment in which all things are related and affected by overlapping processes, resulting in a valuing of biodiversity.Develop a socially situated and responsible view of aesthetics... Become involved in developing creative, imaginative solutions to environmental problems,.. Develop a sense of empowerment to recognize, improve, and reconstruct neglected environments through individual and communal actions. (Neperud, 1995, pp. 235-36)

Participants in the colloquium explored emerging themes, issues, and concepts related to art and ecology and designed ways to build successful interdisciplinary team relationships in art education.

Although attempts to establish connections between art and ecology are relatively infrequent in art education, such linkages have figured prominently in the work of some artists and critics who draw upon ecological connections in aesthetics and art. For example, Suzy Gablik (1991), a critic and colloquium participant, has written extensively about ecological artists. In a recent paper on "connective aesthetics," Gablik expressed the view that modern aesthetics with its emphasis on individualism and the separation of art from life makes audiences into detached observers and spectators. "Such art can never build community" but artists are finding "ways of weaving environmental and social responsibility directly into their work" (Gablik, 1995, pp. 86-87).


Approximately 50 teachers and other educators participated in the colloquium. Other participants, including a Yellowstone Park ranger/educator, an artist, and a critic, added additional expertise to the colloquium and contributed to exciting discussions of environmental issues.


Although the colloquium lasted only 5 days it was packed with a variety of engaging activities, which included art, ecology, and curriculum content. A rich array of resources drawn from local communities provided the setting for colloquium experiences. Recurring issues and themes relevant to art and ecology provided continuity for the diverse activities of the colloquium. Themes such as a community-based ecological art education, social ecology, ecofeminism, and ecological restoration allowed participants to confront environmental problems in differing contexts. An inquiry model consisting of direct experience, observation and reflection, critical thinking, and planned action served as a core for the various educational activities. The inquiry approach served as an issuesoriented, problem-centered basis for learning.

Art and ecology were woven into the content of the colloquium, as were cultural and curriculum concerns consistent with the goals of the program. …