How to Be a Climate-Artist

What should artists be doing?

Bill Crandall
Counter Arts

--

[Vermont, USA, 2022, photo by Bill Crandall. Dance/theater performance by The Quarry Project on a scorching hot summer day. Is this a climate photo if you read it symbolically?]

Over the past several years, I’ve become increasingly convinced that art can help us in our current climate predicament. But when I would talk with artist friends about the possibilities, I could almost see the dismal options playing out in their minds: ‘Oh man, do I have to become message-y? Preachy? Worst of all, do I risk ending up with clumsy didacticism — bad art’?

It’s understandable. Artists just want to do their work on their own terms, not mold it to some agenda, however noble.

And maybe they’re right to worry about those stereotypes: Paintings taken over by simplistic slogans. Songs that veer into awkwardness as soon as lyrics tip their hand explicitly. Photos that focus on apocalyptic extremes in weather.

If art can play a role in taking us into a more positive future — which is the basic premise of my intermittent Viaduct Arts newsletter, not hope exactly but more like stubborn optimism — some early examples of art-as-activism were not encouraging.

Where’s the magic?

In our earnestness, are we doing ‘climate art’ wrong?

It could be that art hasn’t quite figured out what it is supposed to actually do in this moment, in a way that’s different from journalism or science. Much…

--

--

Bill Crandall
Counter Arts

Photographer and educator. Exploring how art and stories can take us forward. Carrying the fire.