Magazine article Art Education

Island Ecology: An Exploration of Place in the Elementary Art Curriculum

Magazine article Art Education

Island Ecology: An Exploration of Place in the Elementary Art Curriculum

Article excerpt


Today, the term environment is a kind of cultural barometer, connected to other terms such as environmentalism, environmental degradation, environmental art, environmentally friendly, and environmentalist. All of these terms can feel distant and disconnected from our everyday lives. The environment is comprised of multiple dimensions, including natural, social, and built surroundings that each one of us experiences locally. Taken as a whole these local environs make up the larger ecological conditions experienced globally.

As an artist and educator I question the role of our environment in artmaking. I ask myself if art can approach the intimate relationship between ecological and social issues in a way that other processes cannot. If so, how can 1 create a unit of instruction that fosters a critical awareness of nature while engaging the imagination?

Many researchers, artists, and educators of our 21st century take issue with systemic problems such as dominance and oppression, social inequality, resource depletion, and socio-cultural neglect. Graham (2007b), Hicks and King (2007), and Blandy, Congdon and Krug (1998) see the state of the world today as a call to action. Environmental degradation in the form of pollution, loss of species, global warming, and over-population threaten human and non-human life on this planet. We exist in a state of social and cultural dislocation that permeates our natural, social, and built environments. Gradle (2007) along with Hicks and King (2007) call this "displacement," and purport a re-connection and re-contextualization within our varied environments. In this article, I will illustrate how big terms such as ecology, place, and site can be defined locally, and used to hone the intentions and means student art making.


The term ecology has always implied a relational function. The Greek words oikos [dwelling] and logos (study of] were combined to designate the study of the household of nature. From its conception, word ecology is centered on the very idea of place. In order to reconstruct our with the environment, humans must understand our place in it.

As a culture we are beginning to the functions of our human-made environment to the functions of the natural ment. Innovations in design, local and national conservation initiatives, and environmental planning are en vogue, and a priority for many communities as we try to navigate our relationship with the environment.

During the fall and spring of 2008, I created three units of instruction for third through fifth grade students to examine the tension and resonance between their socio-cultural and natural environments. premises provided the theoretical construct for this exploration.

Premise one:

To find connections that create critical awareness about the interdependence of nature and culture is a primary responsibility in this postmodern era.

Premise two:

Postmodernism has erected itself philosophically against the exploits of modernity. Tt seeks to invert the dominant structures of the past, and give voice to the other. Ecologically speaking, the other is the natural world itself.


A place, defined in terms of visual art, can be reflective, illustrating the reality of one's environment. In the 1970s, Parsons, Johnson, and Durham (1974) addressed the need for students to develop an accumulated and personalized relationship to the world around them. Today, contemporaries like Lippard, Lacy, and Sutton articulate the importance of a critical pedagogy of place. By reflecting socio-culturally and ecologically on their local environment, students can construct a picture of that place that illustrates the interdependence they feel between the human and natural worlds.

Examinations of place in visual art can also be imaginative, creating new realities within one's environment. Neperud (1997) and Hollis (1997) call this type of engagement "first-hand phenomenological experience. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.