EcoMyths: We can experience nature and art together

July 29, 2014

Daisy Simmons

(AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Visitors walk through the exterior corridor at Nezu Museum, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, in Tokyo. Kuma, is a pioneering American architect known for cherishing nature and people in his designs. Natural wood is everywhere, in screens, doors and furniture. It is “working together like music,” he said, to create a comfortable and luxurious spot, even in cramped spaces.

EcoMyths Alliance says: “Too often, we think of nature and art as unrelated experiences. One is outside, the other is inside. But the way humans experience nature and art has been powerfully linked throughout history...And when that art speaks to us, it in turn deepens our connection with the world around us.” For our regular EcoMyths segment, Alaka Wali, anthropology curator at The Field Museum, joins Kate Sackman and Jerome McDonnell to share why she believes, “engaging with art, whether viewing or making it yourself, gives you a visceral experience. This aesthetic, emotional experience [can be a] great way to engage with nature."

Key ways art and nature influence each other:

· Scientifically grounded art brings natural science to life: Many people find science simply over their heads. Art can bridge the gap by enabling us to visualize what otherwise may seem remote or irrelevant. Audubon did this with detailed renderings of birds, just as the Field Museum does with artistic dioramas, which evoke a sense of the habitat and behavior of any given species, as well as its Restoring Earth exhibit, which brings conservation science to life with mini-collections created by visitors. Wali also cites the example of the international Crochet Coral Reef, which raises awareness about coral reef destruction using an intricate crochet technique (get the full scoop in this TED Talk).

· Nature-themed art opens doors to other worlds – including the one outside: Museums can inspire us to head outside, whether it's the urban kid who doesn't realize how much nature is all around us until he sees an exhibit on local wildlife, or the art afficionado, inspired to book a trip to the gardens at Giverny and see the famed water lilies for themselves.

· Nature-inspired art inspires us to make a difference: Because environmental topics can be overwhelmingly complicated, sometimes a single image is most effective in inspiring action. For example: To save an endangered parrot native to St. Lucia, international conservation group Rare worked with schools to develop artwork, which eventually became a postage stamp, generating major community support for active protection of the bird. Another example: National Geo photographer Joel Sartore's Photo Ark documents vulnerable species like the Carolina Grasshopper sparrow, which now has a real chance for comeback from decline.

Stories like these abound: An artful interpretation of nature can, and has, inspired some of our noblest actions.

EcoMyths Outcome

Is getting outdoors the only way to experience nature? Nope! Is going to the museum the only way to experience art? Not a chance. Art can provide a meaningful portal into understanding and connecting with nature—and vice versa.

One Green Thing: Let the great outdoors inspire your own art

Whether it’s snapping an artful shot with your phone, writing a haiku about the crazy shapes of the clouds, or balancing river rocks, getting creative in the great outdoors is a powerful way to commune with nature.