"Dirty Jobs" Maintain and Vitalize Ecosystems

Posted Thursday November 14, 2013 At 16:02PM . Blog, Eco Issues

"Cow bladder assembler for a Mardi Gras parade float."

"Bat Cave Scavenger"

"Worm Dung Farmer"

"Sewer Inspector"

"Pig Farmer"

"Chick Sexer"

"Avian Vomitologist"

"Casino Food Recycler"

"Skull Cleaner"

"Dairy Cow Midwife"

All these professions have been featured on the television show, "Dirty Jobs" hosted by Mike Rowe since 2005. They are carefully selected to elicit 'yuk' sounds of disgust. Look closely, and you may note that each one contributes to the vitality and productivity of living systems.

One,Two,Three - Here Comes Climate Change

Posted Tuesday October 15, 2013 At 14:42PM . Blog, Eco Issues

Three approaches to the impending warming of the globe's climate emerged after reviewing the applications for this year's Buckminster Fuller Challenge award - a $100,000 grant with no strings attached. The recipient is a pragmatic visionary who fulfills Bucky's holistic world view and confirms his faith in human ingenuity. Serving as one of six jurors provided a rare glimpse at problem-solving innovations that are capable of planet-wide impact.

None displayed the public's prevailing response to predictions of climate change - DISREGARD. Some were pro-active. Others were re-active. But all were active.

Anthropocene or Ecozoic?

Posted Wednesday September 25, 2013 At 18:26PM . Blog, Eco Issues

What shall we name the current epoch?

There is a consensus within the International Union of Geological Sciences, the organization that determines the naming of eras.  It asserts that the Holocene epoch is over (it lasted for almost 12,000 years). Yet this consensus has not averted a contentious debate that pits scientists against environmentalists regarding the choice of a new name.

Strife surrounds the leading name candidate – “The Anthropocene Era”. The term derives from 'anthropo', for human, and 'cene', for new.

What is new about humans?

The answer inferred by the term 'anthropocene' is the impact of human life upon the globe. But, you might protest, human impact can be traced back to A.D. 900 when agriculturists began to leave their marks upon the planet. The justification is that someting significant IS new. It is the nature and the intensity of this impact. As a species, humans are now causing mass extinctions of plants and animals, polluting the waterways and the atmosphere, eroding topsoil, causing habitat loss and species invasions, depleting resources, and wreaking havoc on the Earth’s material and energetic systems in countless other ways.


The Freedom to Tell

Posted Tuesday September 10, 2013 At 01:47AM . Blog, Eco Issues


"The very freedom to tell gives art enormous power."

This provocative sentence appears in the current issue of the Brooklyn Rail. It was written by the artist, Lenore Malen, in response to a pithy question posed by guest editor, Carter Ratcliff. He asked, "What Is Art?"

What is art? Malen writes, “Useless, an empty signifier, but also the currency for global capital and high stakes gambling, of great value and interest to millions of people who wait patiently in extremely long lines, and completely irrelevant to countless others...”

In Defense of Eco Art

Posted Friday September 06, 2013 At 01:49AM . Blog, Eco Issues

Although some eco artworks promote sensory and emotive engagements, the clear functionality of much eco art introduces a particularly disputed form of innovation.

Eco art tampers with the popular assumption that art can only engage the human spirit because it frequently seems indistinguishable from engineering, gardening, farming, etc.

How can eco artists defend themselves against the accusation that pragmatic practices do not belong within the realm of ‘art’?

Fallacy of Artists Who Garden

Posted Sunday September 01, 2013 At 02:41AM . Artists, Blog, Eco Issues

The last century has witnessed a faceoff between two contrasting food-production schemes. One favored large scale industrial farming; its goal was to maximize yields and its methods depended on powerful mechanical technologies and applications of chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. The other pursued the gardener’s intimate and nurturing interactions with plants and animals by emulating non-human strategies of growth and propagation. The farm straddles these opposing world views.

Industry, farm, and garden are society’s dominant forms of biological productivity.  Because entire social, political, spiritual, environmental, and ethical philosophies are imbedded in each approach, gardening offers artists a powerful tool for waging subversive actions. Critical Art Ensemble provides one compelling example. Nicole Fournier provides another.

Evidence abounds of the health dangers associated with large scale agricultural production.  I discovered the fallacy of assuming that artists who garden necessarily object to industrial agricultural production. In the early years of the 20th century, Karel Teige (1900 – 1951), a Czech artist, championed the ethical, technological, and aesthetic innovations that characterize modern industrial societies, and applied them to all human activities.


Is Eco Art 'Art'? Is Eco Art 'Eco'?

Posted Saturday August 17, 2013 At 21:28PM . Blog, Eco Issues

Although some eco artworks promote sensory and emotive engagements, the overt functionality of much eco art introduces a particularly disputed form of innovation.

Because it frequently seems indistinguishable from engineering, gardening, farming, researching, educating, etc., eco art tampers with the popular assumption that art only engages
the human spirit. How can eco artists defend themselves against the accusation that pragmatic practices do not belong within the realm of ‘art’?

Golf Courses or Savannas

Posted Saturday August 10, 2013 At 15:29PM . Blog, Eco Issues

My previous  blog exploring humanity's preference for savannas, the landscape where humans first evolved into a distinctive species, has stimulated some further reflections.

Compare golf courses and savannas - which both offer park-like settings with short grass and scattered large trees. This is an intriguing comparison since the aesthetics of these settings are similar, but their growing patterns are different. One relies upon humans imposing chemical fertilizers/mowing/weeding/watering to provide divertisment for wealthy folks with leisure time. The other is created by, and thrives because of, the maintenance and reproduction regimens that animals perform to perpetuate their species. Does our evolutionary advantage include recognizing the artificiality of one and the natural vitality of the other?

All Humans All Prefer Savannas

Posted Wednesday August 07, 2013 At 17:54PM . Blog, Eco Issues

What kind of biome is your favorite?


Do you prefer a rain forest? deciduous forest? desert? tundra?

If you are like the majority of humans worldwide, you would prefer "a parklike setting with short grass and scattered large trees." According to an experiment conducted by J.D. Balling and J. H. Falk, this landscape preference prevails worldwide. Humans everywhere possess a strong preference for the savanna. Even Nigerian subjects who have never travelled beyond the rain forest prefer savannas to their native biomes.

How can this be explained?

The Creative Rewiring of Professional Art Protocols

Posted Thursday August 01, 2013 At 01:18AM . Eco Issues


In order to construct an image of sustainability and implement the means to attain it, eco artists are boldly revamping the themes, mediums, aesthetics, processes, skills, and even the role of art in society. In the process, aspects of art that have been cherished for hundreds of years are being discarded as irrelevant.

How is the practice of art-criticism and art-history affected when it addresses art that explores the urgent environmental predicaments that define the contemporary era?

It seems inevitable that eco art critics and eco art historians must be scrambling to accommodate the radical transformations in the creative production of art introduced by eco artists.

Eco art critics are figuring out how to integrate into their analysis the seismic shifts in social meanings and ethical values that reflect environmental concerns.

At the same time, eco art historians are confronting the challenge of contextualizing and conceptualizing a form of art that exists without precedent.

The chapters representing the early years of the 21st century in future art history texts are not yet written. They will likely be formulated through the creative rewiring of professional protocols that differentiate art critics from eco art critics and art historians from eco art historians. 

The Double Challenge of Eco Art Criticism

Posted Wednesday July 24, 2013 At 15:52PM . Blog, Eco Issues

Art critics evaluate merit and assign cultural/historical contexts to art. They have based their analyses upon multiple forms of judgment, focusing on material, aesthetic, thematic, expressive, biographical, historic, theoretical, and/or ethical criteria.


Eco art critics add a second basis of evaluation. While acknowledging art theories and aesthetics, eco art criticism also reflects the ecological principles associated with protecting the planet’s life-sustaining conditions. Managing two disciplines simultaneously more than doubles the complexity of their task.


The ‘eco’ part of their mandate expands the concerns of the art critic to include the actuality of peoples’ lives, corporate policies, technical science, and government regulations. Such considerations unsettle the long-held determinants of artistic “success,” “excellence,” “integrity,” “originality,” and “significance”.


Constructing an alternative system requires creative problem-solving.  Like eco artists, eco art critics strive to resolve planet-wide infirmities and vulnerabilities and search for meaningful forms of innovation.

Optimist / Pessimist / Pragmatist

Posted Thursday July 18, 2013 At 16:08PM . Blog, Eco Issues

The process of seeking environmental INFORMATION more closely resembles the process of forming an OPINION. I was reminded of this in two reports that appeared in this weeks' news about bee populations. What they reveal is that credible sources of data can support opposing views. Although the book, "TO LIFE!", attempts to be inclusive of the diverse themes and approaches being explored by contemporary eco artists, it may not have adequately addressed 'optimist' and 'pessimist'.

Pessimist: Headline: "Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms"

Optimist: Headline "Everyone calm down, there is no “bee-pocalypse."

Pessimist: Quote: Citizens are rallying to support a bill to ban the pesticides believed to be the cause of the bee populations disaster wrote an appearl that states unequivocably, "Recent years have seen a steep and disturbing global decline in bee populations -- some bee species are already extinct and some US species are at just 4% of their previous numbers." 

Optimist: The "NASS Honey Production Report", recently released by the USDA, actually shows that US honey bee colony numbers are stable!!



Eco Art? Environmental Art? Which Name Will Prevail?

Posted Friday July 12, 2013 At 14:58PM . Blog, Eco Issues

As the author of a book dealing with artists addressing the current state of the Earth, I continually confronted the lack of a vocabulary that is shared and registered in the minds of readers.

How extensive was this challenge? It extended to the naming of the movement itself!  

This challenge was the topic of an inquiry from Aviva Rahmani, an accomplished artist who is debating these issues as she writes her dissertation. My response:

I debated the ‘environmental art’ / ‘eco art’ dilemma aince there is no consensus regarding the defining characteristics of each.

Skilling and De-skilling

Posted Saturday July 06, 2013 At 15:36PM . Blog, Eco Issues

“Deskilling” is a term that emerged to describe work is fragmented, as in assembly line factory production, resulting in the loss of integrated skills and comprehensive knowledge that yields pride in workmanship and a sense of accomplishment.

In an application to the arts, Benjamin Buchloh, the esteemed art historian, defines deskilling as artistic endeavors throughout the twentieth century that “are linked in their persistent effort to eliminate artisanal competence and other forms of manual virtuosity from the horizon of both artist competence and aesthetic valuation."

Some thoughts on ‘deskilling’ and eco-art:

Escapism is Possible. Escape is Not.

Posted Tuesday July 02, 2013 At 16:58PM . Eco Issues

How can we cultivate the mental attitudes essential for alerting people to threats to environment while instilling the mental balance and hope required for taking action against our mounting environmental crises? In her new book, The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, psychologist Mary Pipher insists that it is helplessness, not apathy, that leads to inaction. Most people are stuck in a state of knowing-not/knowing, a form of willful ignorance that prevents the mind-shift that precedes remedial activism. Pipher's approach to the need for coping mechanisms that lead to reform is summarized in the following paraphrased quotes: 

THE CRISIS: "Escapism is possible. Escape is not."
THE CONDITION: "We have Paleolithic impulses, Neolithic brains, Medieval Institutions, and 21st century technologies. Our coping skills have not evolved."

THE PROBLEM: "We are in a race between human consciousness and the physics and chemistry of the Earth."

THE CORRECTION: "Despair must be crucible to growth."

THE STRATEGY "Moral imagination is imagining conditions from another species point of view."