A Research Report by Beth Carruthers 

It might seem at first blush that artists and scientists approach the world in very different ways. In popular culture, the former might be stereotyped as frivolous and disconnected from the “real world”, and the latter as unimaginative and concerned only with “hard facts”. Like most stereotypes, these are doomed to inaccuracy. In reality, the two have much in common, and where they do not, they can be most complimentary. Environmental philosopher Allen Carlson for instance, claims that one can have aesthetic appreciation of the environing world only through science, ie, through understanding how things work together beautifully in natural systems.


Beth Carruthers 2006

Artists and scientists alike begin their working projects and processes with a question – an enquiry. They are located within and asking questions of the same world. Processes and final manifestations of the work can differ greatly, yet goals may be parallel. Increasingly, when it comes to ecology and the environmental sciences many artists, scientists and environmental groups are asking similar questions and looking for solutions to the same, increasingly global, problems.

Similar questions about how we may improve human/world relations might involve finding and designing solutions to polluted waters, recovering and preserving habitats and species, educating people about the mystery of the other than human world and how everyday lifestyle choices impact this habitat we share.

Increasingly, the sciences and environmental groups are looking to the arts for partnership, collaboration and translation of vital information into forms that reach individuals, communities and organizations. The arts can facilitate a process of learning through the engaged senses, bypassing conditioned patterns of thinking and allowing other ways of knowing to come forward, at times subtly, at times overwhelmingly. Whether the work focuses on natural, cultural, or political aspects of their environing world, artists have always been sensitive and responsive to the world. The role of artist as catalyst, critic, and educator is hardly a new development. Oftentimes the work has been urgent, prodded into becoming by the nature of a crisis, catastrophe or political repression.

Never, though, has the role of the arts been so urgent as it is in the face of what is now obvious to all as an immediate global crisis within our sustaining and environing world. Because this crisis has been and continues to be nurtured and produced by past and current cultural practices and ideologies, artists, immersed in world and cultural practices, are ideally situated to locate and develop responses.

But if environmental groups and scientists increasingly look to artists for collaboration, many contemporary artists are just as frequently turning to scientists and ecologists for their detailed analysis of our interdependent world. As collaborators in artistic projects, ecologists and scientists provide in-depth research about, and a sophisticated understanding of, the interconnectedness of natural systems that can prove inspirational and efficacious in the design and implementation of EcoART works. 

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