Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Too busy trying to be an artist, to be green too?

Have you been painting, drawing or photographing this month? Have you been creating land art? Have you been living a creative life? Or have you been wrapped up and distracted by life's little dramas?

As artists we don't necessarily get encouraged or motivated to do art by looming deadlines and bosses tracking our productivity, unless you work at a company, or do a lot of client-driven work - in which case, I'm not really talking to you at the moment. I'm talking to the full time artists, the starving artists, the supposedly self-sustaining artists. The artists who need to motivate themselves to do the work they need to, in order to further their careers, or put food on the table. I'm talking to an enormous amount of artists, who might really like to do more natural or environmentally conscious work, but they cope with the stresses and challenges of:

  • managing their own self-criticism or inner critic enough so that they could push through the resistance and fear of failure far enough to actually produce an artwork. 
  • finding inspiration, art materials and the energy to work hard, while being worried about their bank balance, the rent needing to be paid in 3 days, or even overcoming the emotional turmoil from the latest gallery owner rejection. 
  • finding a place to sell or show their work - too often with a lack of knowing where to go, how to approach a gallery, shop owner or agent.
  • coping with clients for commissions who do not value our creative work in the same way that they value the work of a doctor, lawyer or financial manager - undercutting our prices, resulting that we make very little money when considering the cost of our materials and the amount of time it may take to create the commissioned work

I could go on and grow the list further, but the point I'm trying to make is that I understand that there are many challenges that artists face daily. So expecting artists to change the way they create art in order for it to be safer and more respecting towards our environment is a bit much to ask, right? Wrong! I believe that we can overcome many of these challenges by changing the way we make art. 

"Ungrown Branches" by Kai Lossgott

Before I talk about these benefits, let me clarify what changes I am referring to:
  • instead of buying commercial acrylics and oil paints, you mix your own paints - buying and collecting pigments and binders. Yes, you'll need to research and experiment, using tested recipes and even finding your own, but this is all part of the process, which adds to the story behind your work.
Danelle Malan from Cotton Star, painting with ProNature Paints as part of Claire Homewood's Collage Mural Project

  • If you're a sculptor, you will experiment with different materials and methods that don't create hazardous waste or toxic fumes.

Sculptural work in wood, by Loni Dräger

  • If you create prints, you could try to find new substrates to print on - organic cotton, hemp, papyrus, handmade recycled paper, dried leaves stitched together, bamboo sheets, wood... use your creativity!
  • Try use things you would normally throw away - keeping them away from the landfill or the ocean. You'll save money by using an empty yoghurt container to wash your paintbrushes instead of buying a container. You'll save even more money by using 'trash' as materials, creating interesting sculptures, installation art, or mixed media works. The sky is the limit, we have so much free materials to our disposal (no pun intended)!

"Power", found Plastic and Electrical Cables, Simon Max Bannister 2012

  • Also think about ways that your art can contribute to your community - doing murals, mosaics with waste materials, or giving art classes to kids. Your art will expand much more than you realize when you start exploring and being open to new opportunities and ways of doing things.

Land Art in the Tankwa Karoo by Strijdom van der Merwe

In short, I'm asking you as an artist to explore, to find new ways, to create something unique. Not really much to ask for, if you consider that this exploration and learning is PART of your job as an artist!

Because you'd be doing things differently to other artists, some people may struggle to understand your art at first, but it definitely sets you apart from your competition. Tell people about the process, how much you're learning about art through your new focus or approach. They will be interested, many will love it, and many people will be inspired to make changes in the way they do things within their work or life too. And you do want your art to inspire others, or make them think differently, correct?

Installation view of "Cree Prophesy" by Stefanie Schoeman

As mentioned, you could be saving money by working more naturally - avoiding chemically laden products and materials. Some 'pure' materials are more expensive than their commercial, mass-produced counterparts, for sure. But the cost to your health and wellbeing cannot be measured. Using a citrus cleaner for your oilpaints instead of turpentine is a great way to make a small improvement in your art practice. The citrus cleaner is more expensive, but without even being conscious of it, you'll be saving on medical costs in the future. Here's an extract about long-term exposure to turpentine:
When inhaled, turpentine can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and a sore throat. The vapors may also affect the brain or nervous system, and trigger headache, dizziness, confusion and nausea. Beyond inhalation, if turpentine is ingested or absorbed through the skin, it can cause gastrointestinal burning and pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Repeated or long-term exposure may damage the kidneys, bladder and nervous system as well as trigger dermatitis and eczema. (Source)
If you feel that changing your materials and techniques in your art is too much of a challenge, there is another way that you can effect positive change or support our planet. By focusing, even if only for one series of work, or in some of your artworks, on environmental issues, conservation or a related topic. As artists we have a responsibility to make society more aware, more clued up about what is really happening in our world. If you are one of the artists who answers this call of duty, then environmental degradation and sustainable development gives you a lifetime of conceptual material to work from. 

One in a series of photographs by Dillon Marsh, documenting the sociable weavers nests in the Kalahari 

Further reading - check out:

Eco Friendly Art Brands and Materials on Fine Arts with Lori McNee

No comments:

Post a Comment