Why the Arts are Integral to a Sustainable Future

Ecological Art seeks to draw attention to environmental themes.
Contributor: David Fancy 

There are diverse ways in which the arts can be integral to a future sustainable for continued human life on earth. These may take the form of using art to draw attention to the climate crisis or art practises involving collective responses to the climate crisis. Responding to the climate crisis might also manifest as art practises imagining revolutionary and loving futures in which supremacy logic, greed, and materialism are not as central to the many human societies which they are now. One element that is shared across these approaches is the following premise: that the environmental crisis is not simply the result of scientific failure, the faults in several types of government policy or in economic practices. Instead, underpinning all these challenges is the notion that the climate crisis represents fundamental failures of imagination. These failures result from profoundly maladapted understandings of kinship and connection between human and other-than-human entities in the complex networks of which humans are embedded. In short, and in response: the arts can permit us to imagine kinship, connection, and relationship differently in such a way that can be integral to sustainable futures for humans on this planet.  

Geoartistry explores how other-than-human entities create artistic effects.

Although different modes of artistic creation across many cultures provide models of complex relationships between human and other-than-human, we can focus briefly here on three overall types of art practice. The first of these, broadly speaking, is Eco-Art or Ecological Art. These practices—in painting, performance, dance, installation, storytelling, or other genres—regularly seek to draw attention to environmental themes, the need for healthy ecosystems, and humans’ negative impacts on these ecosystems. For example, the Brooklyn-based group STUDIOCKA installed a towering multi-story blue whale entitled ‘Skyscraper’ made of plastic garbage in a canal in Bruges, Belgium. By using 5 tonnes of recovered materials collected from shorelines around the world, the artist collective foregrounded that this amount of plastic represents only 0.00000003 % of the estimated total amount of plastic on shorelines around the world.1  

A second type of practice falls under the rubric of Nature Art, in which natural materials are used to draw attention to their beauty and  encourage the awareness of subtle interconnections between human and natural expression. Andy Goldsworthy’s often sprawling nature installations in the English countryside2 or Anna Rakitina’s paintings of the human body as they map on floral or other forms of patterning3 are excellent examples of Nature Art. In many ways Nature Art is by no means a new phenomenon; many forms of Indigenous expression have existed before Nature Art emerged as a category from creative practices in the Economic North. 

A third category of practice can be described as geoartistry, or the recognition that natural systems may also generate aesthetic effects and sensations not simply for the purposes of human enjoyment, but for their own sake, or for the enjoyment of other non-human animals and entities. Geoartistry serves as an invitation to help humans move beyond their species narcissism and to wonder: do other creatures experience beauty, do other species generate aesthetic experience for its own sake?  

Each of these modes of creation—from Eco-Art, Nature Art, Geoartistry, and beyond—are all part of the work of creating a new earth and a new people to come. 


Duncan, R. (2018). Systemic Thinking and Imagination in Ecopsychology and Mental Health. Routledge. NY. 

Categories: Beyond Sustainability Blog