Art is a way people can express their thoughts and feelings about things that matter to them. Making environmental art, humans try to understand the place they live in and their relationship with many different beings that inhabit it. Environmental and ecological artists choose different media to work with and explore different ways in which we relate to nature.


Nature's beauty has inspired many artists. Claude Monet and Georgia O'Keefe chose nature as a subject of their paintings not only for its aesthetic quality, but in a search to define its relationship with humans.
Prairie has had a special role in American art. Painters like Harvery Dunn, George Catlin, or Hugh Greer saw prairie as a place where American history unfolded, and lifestyles changed in a matter of decades. Marianne Kinzer sees prairie is a symbol of american spirit.
Not only paintings can tell about nature's beauty. Nils-Udo seeks to connect with nature's inner and outer beauty through his sculptures and installations.


Image: Nils-Udo "The Nest", Earth, stones, birch trees, birch branches, grass, Lineburg Heath, Germany, 1978

Learning about environment helps us to understand who we are and where we come from, giving us a sense of place.Observing nature and making it visible to others is an important task many artists take upon themselves. Video artist Sam Easterton attaches tiny video cameras to animals to learn more about their life from their own perspective. Vaughn Bell uses video installation to allow viewers to observe and experience a sense of time particular to a place. Brandon Ballengee places his work on the border of art and scientific research.

Image: Sam Easterson, "Tarantula Cam"

When looking at environment it is impossible to miss signs of how humans have altered it. Environmental activists use art to educate people about the invasiveness of their lifestyles into eco spheres around the world. Making people aware is a big step in helping to protect their land from further damage. Photographer Terry Evans documents the influence of modern agriculture on prairies. Yann Arthus-Bertrand's "Earth from Above" shows the beauty of nature and the effects of human destruction through aerial photography. Work of Steve Bradley focuses on how garbage, as small as candy wrappers, disrupts the environment. Susan Leibovitz Steinman salvages materials from community waste streams to construct public art.


Image: Terry Evans, Rotational grazing, Chase County, Kansas, November, 1996

Do we need technology to make environmental art? Artists like Kathryn Miller advocate an approach that utilizes natural materials and processes. Jackie Brookner uses water, stones and a variety of mosses to make her biosculptures. Walter De Maria and Robert Smithson use some man made materials and explore how human technology fits natural environment.

Image: Kathryn Miller, First day of the Subdivision, Isla Vista, CA, 1992


Art is not only about making beautiful things or poignant imagery. Some art can help nature directly! Georg Dietzler makes art with oyster mushrooms and Yolanda Guitterrez builds sculptures that serve as bird dwellings. Unique artwork by Betty Beaumont, Ocean Landmark, recycles waste, establishes a habitat for fish and continues to feed people.


Image: Yolanda Gutierrez, "Santuario", Xochimilco Ecological Zone, Mexico, 1994

All in all nature remains the source of beauty and mystery. How intelligent is environment? Ancient people believed in river and forest spirits, griffins and ogres. In the light of modern scientific knowledge do we still need to hang on to myths and legends of the past? Animator Nina Paley uses a fairy tale role of stork to talk about a overpopulation. Animators like Hayao Miyazaki or Moon Seun and Kevin Geiger engage storytelling and metaphor to help children and adults to preserve the sense of awe and respect for nature,to treat environment as a living being equal to human in every possible way.


Image: Hayao Miyazaki, "Spirited Away", 2003.

Prepare a short presentation about an environmental artist of your choice. Try looking for answers to these questions to organize your presentation:

1. What is the name of the artist and their background?
2. What is their art about?
3.What media or materials they use in making their art?
4. Why can this artist be considered environmentally conscious?
5. What message do you think their artwork is communicating?


Sites dedicated to ecological and environmental art find information about many more environmental artists here!

Environmental Art in school curriculum


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