On Environmental Art Making

Doing good to the environment is not humankind’s long suit. There are precious few ways for us to interact with our natural surroundings that have a positive impact. That’s why it’s important to approach the making of art out-of-doors, sideways. It should not be difficult for nature to deflect or absorb the making of art in its realm.

Art is not nature. If it was we wouldn’t need to make it because it’s already made. Nature is not art. An interpretation or contextualization of nature can be art. Augmenting or aggregating nature, intervening in or interacting with nature are potential ways for nature to become art. Left alone, nature creates itself. It is, perhaps, its own art. But that’s not ours to judge because as soon as we do, we turn it into art that’s of our own making.

To make a piece of environmental art, begin by resisting, for as long as you possibly can, the urge to even think about making something. Explore. Examine. Extract. Take it all in, including the chaotic, the fractured and the missing bits. To ignore incongruities only perpetuates ignorance. Accepting confusion is the the first step toward clarity. Stand up to preconceptions, and at the same time, stand up for intuition. Ask what’s been shown, what’s being told, what’s the experience of the place.

Nature is full of edges, hard and soft, but we hardly notice the transitions. Along every edge, conductivity is taking place. Conductivity is the most active force of nature. Though invisible, the passing of power is so pervasive and ever present we accept it as a given. In microcosms and macrocosms, alike, where there’s an abundance of differences the differences disappear through shared border lines.

Look for resolution in the transition between things. Integrity is fashioned at the edges. For something to have stature it must connect to its surroundings. Background is backbone. Strength begins in the distance and accumulates as it moves, by capillary action, toward the center. Connections may be weakest the further they are away from the center but there they are most plentiful. The center gains its strength by pulling energy from its edges.

The horizon line defines the extent to which an environmental art piece can draw power. Energy flows from the background, is gathered up and expressed. In its turn, the piece becomes a point of emanation on other horizon lines. Art made in, and of, nature borrows and loans in equal measure. It gains specificity by being contextualized and offers diversity by upturning natural order.

At the site of a work-to-be, take away an impression. Leave with an understanding that can be turned into the groundwork for how to engaged with the place. Still, don’t think about what to make. Ask yourself what materials are available and how they might be manipulated.

A sphere of influences, created by the establishment of limitations, surrounds and protects the process of art making. Confined by self imposed boundaries, the work proceeds with good reason for optimism. The central concern, the choice of art, becomes effortless under the right conditions. When all is in place, the making of the art is nothing more, or less, than the joy of being of this earth.

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2 Responses to On Environmental Art Making

  1. Todd Lynch December 2, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Dan,

    What a beautiful and elegant way to illustrate your process of making art in the landscape. Thanks for the inspired essay.

    • Dan December 2, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

      Thanks, Todd! The essay was written for a book being published in Finland. Part Two coming soon to the blog.

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