The Role of Art in Conservation and Environmental Protection | WWF
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Maheen Kashif writes about the role art can play to create awareness about the need for a healthy environment.

The Role of Art in Conservation and Environmental Protection

Art of all forms has the ability to move individuals, awaken imaginations and raise a unique awareness of the omnipresent issues which our world is confronted with. An image speaks a thousand words, let us analyze how these images can help create awareness about the importance of a healthy environment.

Looking at art that is capable of raising awareness, an imperative branch that is overlooked is ecological art. Fundamentally, this is based on the phenomena of splashing paint on nature. Rooted upon these two principles, combining art and the environment has helped as a driving force empowering political and environmental developments. The world is currently almost one degree hotter than it was before industrialization, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and as it has been expressed in an article by the BBC in April 2019 we are not on track to meet our environmental change targets. In such a time of despair, the world needs more than science and logical techniques to reach out to the hearts of the general population.

Art is made for many purposes, and experiencing it is an individual occurrence. But whether its purpose is to share beauty or enlighten with ideas or to make a statement or to capture a moment or place or person, art always serves to connect the artist with its viewers, in a way that science never can.

My conviction is that when individuals represent the Earth, it is a direct result of the passionate association they have with their home. The connection between all of us can be portrayed on a canvas through art, a universal language. Art can energize human compassion in such a way that few other things can. The creative sector engages with us as a whole and as the climate change movement suffers from enervation and despair, it gives us hope that new possibilities are right around the corner. I believe that this growth in artistic awareness can create a new generation of environmental activists, who will be able to lead the way for sustainable development in the future. Long gone are the days where words printed on a textbook had the desired effect. The digital age demands visuals, which may be seen in the form of art. Often, the challenge in getting such messages across is that people are overrun by a plethora of messages every day; you need a message that stands out, that can reach out to people and form a connection with them. The best way to do this is through art.

There are many artists worldwide who have proven that art can create environmental awareness. For example, Richard Shilling is an environmental artist who incorporates geometry into his pieces and uses small, unnoticeable things and turns them into art.  They succeed in not only creating admiration for the talent of the artist, but also makes the observer look deeper at an ordinary part of nature that too often goes unnoticed. Another such artist is Michael Heizer, who was one of the first artists to create Land Art. He is well-known for his giant project in the Nevada Desert titled Double Negative. It consisted of a 1,500 foot long trench, which was created naturally by the displacement of rocks.

Another catastrophic issue facing our world today is that of the loss of biodiversity. People are the cause of the present rate of species loss, which is in any event 100 to 1,000 times higher than it should have been naturally. There is a shocking 60 per cent decrease in the size of populace of well-evolved creatures, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians in little more than 40 years, as indicated by WWF's Living Planet Report 2018. When it comes to wildlife conservation, many people ask what its link is to art. For me, the answer is obvious: art pieces are often visually powerful, they open the eyes of an onlooker towards the beauty of our fauna and the impact its loss will have on us. A great work of art can move a person to look deeper into an issue and perhaps make contributions towards the cause. A striking image can have a more profound impact on the observer than a lecture or seminar. While insights about nature may make us think it is encounters with nature that make us give it a second thought.

Studies have shown that children who grew up interacting with wild nature, which is characterized through activities such as hiking or fishing, are more likely to take action towards environmental protection as compared to those children who remained indoors or away from nature.

However, the vast majority will never visit the world's most remote places or come face to face with its most jeopardized species. That is the reason art is a phenomenal apparatus for individuals to interface with nature and for their senses to ponder it. Art puts forward not only an aesthetic display, but also links emotions to what is being interpreted visually. Each work of art can be interpreted various ways; this gives each piece a different message, a message of awareness about the importance of nature. Every stroke, every splotch of paint can convey a message of pain or a cry of help, in any way the viewer wishes to see it. As the American journalist, Richard Heinsberg once said, “As we move closer to what surely will be unprecedented ecological, economic and social disruption, meaningful art can and must express the turmoil we encounter and help us process it intellectually and emotionally.” I believe that art has the capability to establish impactful movements and become the catalyst for environmental protection, which we are so desperately looking for. Time is running out but it is still not too late. In times like these, we can use our art, our brushes and our paints to preserve the very colours we throw on the canvas. I believe we can portray the beauty of nature (and the need to save it) through art, or else all we will have left to draw, will be smoke and ash.

Maheen Kashif is an O-level student at Lahore Grammar School and passionate about arts.