Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Art, Ecological Restoration, and Art Education

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Art, Ecological Restoration, and Art Education

Article excerpt

Reverence for the land was not a characteristic of most European colonists when they arrived on the eastern fringes of what is now known as the United States. The stories of these immigrants often reflect their need to control the natural environment as part of their struggle to survive. William Bradford called Cape Cod "wild and desolate." Other colonists used terms such as "howling," "dismal," and "terrible" to describe an environment they felt needed to be tamed and subdued (Ittleson, Proshansky, Rivlin, & Winkel, 1974). These attitudes toward nature, exemplified in the epic poem Beowulf, were embedded in the colonists' world view that focused on the horrors found in woods and swamps (Clark, 1949). Additionally, Christian doctrine, as expressed in biblical passages like Genesis 1:26, taught about the expected domination of creation by humans (Dubos, 1968). This legacy continues today.2

Early European colonists' disposition to dominate nature was very different from the attitudes of indigenous people of North America. Takaki (1993) commented on the tendency of European cultures to divide civilization and control wilderness, whereas Native American peoples saw themselves (and in many ways continue to see themselves) as dependent on, and integral to the earth. Many contemporary scholars now admire Native Americans' systemic thinking and their interdependent and cooperative sensitiveness to the consequences of their actions. Many of these same views have been adopted by some contemporary environmentalists who promote the idea that humans, other animals, and plants are an integral part of a complex interlinking web. Human experiences, cognitive processes, and social and cultural practices come from, and can only be understood in relation to the environment (Ittleson, Proshansky, Rivlin, & Winkel, 1974).

The attitudes and practices brought to North America by European colonists have wrought environmental havoc and devastation that can no longer be ignored.3 Carson (1962) warned more than three decades ago, that Americans would have to answer tough questions about population control, nuclear waste, water contamination, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity. Today, environmental degradation and devastation permeates North America and most other parts of the world. Air is foul, water is polluted, soil is arid, species are fast becoming extinct, and population growth is challenging the planet's capacity to sustain life.

In response to this devastation, ecological restoration is increasingly becoming the goal of many people concerned about a healthy place to live. Ecosystems are being reconstructed through processes that attempt to mimic natural patterns of recovery and are applicable to both rural and urban areas (Merchant, 1992). It has been noted that a healthy society is one that promotes systemic thinking, cooperation, noncompetitiveness, and interdependence (Congdon & Congdon, 1986). These qualities are also characteristic of a restorative attitude. We believe that not to act in this way is to add to the growing list of ecological failures. Many contemporary ecological restorationists use science in ways that are different from classical physics and do not view contemporary ecological approaches to nature in the manner of Descartes, Bacon, and Newton. These ecological restorationists advocate living in harmony with nature, discovering nature's connections, and then using these relationships to change and restore the natural world (Riflkin, 1981).

Many contemporary artists are participating in the restoration of ecosystems. Some artists create art that communicates an ecological consciousness and works to sustain a land-based way of life (Brookner, 1992). Much ecological art has become a catalyst for a heightened awareness of nature, as well as a model of interdisciplinary problem-posing and problem-solving (Van Matre & Weiler, 1983). By revitalizing, re-creating, and restoring habitats, artists are redefining their role in society. …

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