8.04.2017

art 21 / ecology



I mentioned in my last post that I finally completed my summer classes (both of which I actually enjoyed quite a lot). Well, for my modern art history class, I watched an episode of the PBS series Art21, and wrote a casual, 500 word essay on one of the contemporary artists featured every week. I probably enjoyed it a bit too much and I usually ended up with about 700 words and the desire to write more. I thought it'd be fun to share some of my favorite episodes and mini-essays with you. I found nearly every episode I digested immensely inspiring, motivating, and moving and an affirmation that I am following the correct path in life. Art can be both eye-opening and wonderfully powerful and I feel that this video series captures the very essence of these truths. If you do decide to follow along, I hope that you will feel similarly.

Each essay introduces the episode topic and then delves into which artist I chose and why, a little on the artist's personality, the medium(s) the artist works with, and how the pieces the artist creates relate to the theme of the episode followed by a concluding statement and a question. In addition to the short essay, I wrote a response (at least 200 words) to a classmate's post which included my general reaction to the post and artist the student wrote about, as well as an answer to the student's question. I will not be posting the classmate's post, but you'll get an idea of what it was about through my response. I will post the responses in separate posts, some time after I post the original essay. This first one is on ecology. This was one of my favorite episodes and tears escaped my eyes while I watched it. Hope you enjoy!


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This episode of Art 21 focuses on ecology. Broadly, ecology is the relationship between organisms and their environment; it is a branch of biology. Though scientists focus their work on physicalities, empirical evidence, and through a lens detached from biases, artists have the freedom to drench an audience in their own reasoning without the need for data, but rather by eliciting emotional response from within viewers. All four of the artists in the episode--Ursula von Rydingsvard, I├▒igo Manglano-Ovalle, Robert Adams, and Mark Dion--observed the specific relationship between humans and nature. Though the artists fixated on a common theme, they concentrated on differing angles of this relationship--direct human interaction with nature, politics, destruction, etc.

This time, I chose to write about Robert Adams. After hearing the first sentence he uttered in the program--“the final strength in really great photographs is that they suggest more than what they show literally”--I knew I had to write about him. This simple thought cannot be more accurate when it comes to photography, or really any other art form, I think. Without that something beyond the literal, a photograph (or any art piece) is forgotten easily, maybe even disregarded. But, if it provokes thought, if it evokes a feeling, it has done something extraordinarily powerful. This was my favorite part about his work. Though some scenes may have appeared as ordinary landscapes or simply as snapshots of emerging suburbia, they all transcended what a pair of eyes had glossed over. As a photographer, this is always one of my goals and Adams seems to effortlessly, yet passionately achieve this time after time. For me, Adams appears to be a man nourishing deep emotion and care within him and a beautiful desire to share it with the world. There’s not a better example of this than when he mentions that he pities the individuals who have not been so moved by a tree to at least touch it. Adams is a photographer, but in the video he is also shown very briefly working with wood. Each of his photographs focus on juxtaposing the beauty of nature with its destruction caused by humans. Rarely does he capture a human figure, however his images manage to encase the relationship between humans and nature with such aberrant precision. In his book Turning Back, Adams takes on the heavy and dismal subject of deforestation. The juxtaposition is most apparent in the photograph of the large tree stump on the side of the road on which a lone, cowardly beer can sits and one of the rare photographs including a human figure, the photograph of his wife sitting, defeated near an enormous stump. Both these photos present two very different human interactions with nature (one of anarchy and the other of loss) amongst destruction. Adams’ work relates to the overarching theme of ecology, through his particular study of human interaction with the destruction of a natural environment for the place of one artificial and more menacing.

Overall, I was truly captivated by every piece in this episode and able to relate to what each artist had to say and present. The relationship between humans and nature has always been one of great significance and interest to both scientists and artists alike. In today’s heavy, tense atmosphere of climate change and politics, this relationship provides, I would say, an even greater significance than ever before. If data doesn’t serve as enough of a warning of the constant destruction we partake in, perhaps contemporary art will. Have you seen any other ways that contemporary artists have addressed the topic of ecology? Do you feel there is a certain angle more significant than another (for example, destruction of the planet vs. appreciation of the beauty of nature)?

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