How and Why Does Art Matter for our Sustainable Future?
Updated: Oct 18, 2022
It’s a hard one to square with our left brain logical thinking, but art is set to - and indeed must - play a hugely important role in securing our sustainable future: in protecting our environment and our planet human and non-human life alike.
At its simplest level art is play. Only when it is burdened with being acceptable or ‘good’ does it lose its playful quality and become ponderous, stuck and burdened - that is of little help and no different to how we may feel about our ‘real-world’ situation. Accessing the playful lightens us: it lets some light in, and light means we can see our way.
Some readers may be familiar with the concept of active imagination. If that term sounds like hard work, then discard it – the practices and uses remain the same regardless of what they are called. The way in to art needs to be playful, light and easy, and preferably an activity that helps us access a slightly more symbolic, ‘big picture’ view on life. A walk or swim might help, reading poetry or simply playing with ideas we love for a bit. For me it’s often been reading Astrological magazines or books: a great way to quickly access a rich symbolic landscape that speaks to me, while also resting me, since there is no apparent ‘useful’ purpose to it. We are all different, the only ask is to let it in and not censor this: it’s pretty easy to squash what really feeds you with what you think ought to feed you.
Then, to help us to step into our sustainable future individually and collectively, we need to be able to ‘take a line for a walk’, to quote the Swiss born artist Paul Klee. This ‘line’ could be words or image, dance or melody. You don’t know at all what will happen next but as you step out into a new creation, the path appears. All judgement must be suspended and replaced with intense interest. This work is not for the Tate Gallery – although it might one day get there – this work is only for you, for us, and in that, it is everything.
Why is this work so important?
Faced with a 1 minute to midnight scenario of what happens to us and our planet next, and given the way we have developed; given the way we have treated our environment; given new COVID-19 rules; given inequalities, war, mass extinctions and plastic oceans; given all this, and more, we desperately need to imagine our way into a new future, and the way we start to do this is to do it for ourselves. Like Little Mo and her Magic Pencil,[i] the images we create, like the stories we tell, are real, and, since the only corner of the world we can really hope to change is ourselves, let’s start there. With art.
We need to understand that art connects us with the sacred, and that the sacred counts. If this idea leaves you cold, cast a thought to how you felt when you last spent time at the edge of a wild ocean with crashing waves, or in the presence of an enormous full moon rising or smelling a rose. This is what is behind mass XR protests and, in fact, the whole environmental movement. Whether or not we admit it, we know we are connected to the grand mystery of life in these experiences and we are desperate to right the imbalance, reinstating nature to her rightful - sacred - place.
Back in the mists of time, spirit and matter were one. There was no empty, mechanical, physical world but everything was alive, and we were a part of it. We are re-finding that viewpoint now. Art helps us step into that experience. If the Lascaux cave paintings and other highly sophisticated pre-historic artifacts are anything to go by, we can hardly conclude that these earliest cultures were ‘primitive’. Instead we need to see them as closer to the essence, to the core of life, unencumbered by too much ideology, embedded instead in the experience of living. Our ancestors didn’t understand the science of the world, but they understood it symbolically and that is what we need to do now with new myths for our time, created by you and me.
For me I find it useful to tell this story: rather than seeing humans as a helpless and destructive force, damaging and pillaging a world that would be better off without us, I see instead that we are made up of waves or particles of light, as quantum theory has it, connected to all of the earth, infinite wisdom and to our source. We have a mission to get to the next level – to make an evolutionary leap – and the chaos we find ourselves in is an indicator that the time is now. We are actually all powerful and our future lies in our hands. To get there we need broaden the bandwidth to include what the rational mind rejects, but which our hearts, bodies and intuition tells us is there, and especially our own creativity.
We are equipped with all we need, and we must start to create our new reality now.
[i] The Old Joke Book, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Tindal Press, 1976
‘The Myth of the Goddess’ Baring A. and Cashford J. Penguin Arkana, 1993
‘Matrix Energetics’, Bartlett, R. Atria Simon and Schuster, 2007
‘ProcessMind’, Mindell A. Quest Books, 2010
‘The Artist’s Way’’, Cameron J., Pan Books, 1995