So what is sustainable art? To discuss this we must first understand the term sustainability. The definition of the word is the ability to maintain something at a certain level. In the context of the environment, this means balancing our need for resources with the needs of other living things, and the ability of the environment to continually provide those resources. Everything we take from the environment has a cost. Modern concern over sustainability has risen for many as a result of the industrial revolution, which created great advancement in manufacturing and production at the cost of natural resource depletion. If we use resources at a rate in which they cannot replenish (or use resources that can’t replenish at all), the environment will run out. In addition, manufacturing and production creates many forms of pollution – harmful waste generated during the process of production, and when we throw things away. Sustainability refers to the need to carefully consider what and how much we use, and what we leave behind.
Sustainable art can be one or both of two things; art that is itself sustainable, and art that is created to inspire sustainability in society. Art that is sustainable typically uses natural materials in its creation. While typically less permanent, natural materials are not harmful pollutants in the environment.
Not all common paint ingredients are bad. Many watercolor paints use a binder known as gum arabic, which is hardened sap from an Acacia tree. Many pigments are made from natural minerals, and can even be made from organic sources like plant material. Ultimately, the more you know about what you use to make your art the better. It’s better to be cautious when disposing of paints.
The Environmental Volunteers has even done a nature painting program making paints out of natural materials! Watch our virtual Painting with Nature Program https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYZhuS7Y5Ps&t=1s
You can also reuse your unsustainable materials as art. Whenever you go to throw something away, consider whether it can be reused in a fun art project. It’s a great challenge for your own creativity, and can be an inspiration for others.
By Drew Thompson, Program Coordinator