Some while ago I did an interview with Siân Ede, Director of Arts at the Gulbenkian Foundation. This week I finally got around to transcribing it and posting it up on the main arts and ecology website. She was particularly smart when it came to addressing the objectives of the RSA Arts & Ecology website here:
People think there must be a use for art in issues around the environment – and we believe there is – but quite often they misconstrue what that use is.
Yes. Artists never use the word “use”. What Kant says about art is it’s purposiveness without a purpose. And it is a response to the world in any number of interesting different ways because all the artists are looking at it slightly differently. So there is a fundamental problem for me, and I think for the RSA too, and for the Arts Council, about asking artists to make things that have a utility, that are issue-based, in the jargon. You’ll get people like Cornelia Parker saying “as an individual I am very moved by the politics and the ethics
of environmental issues, but I can’t do that in my art.” It’s not how it works. Because the arts are much more complex and do not have a particular purpose.
Obviously there will be some artworks that have a particular purpose, and interestingly the attitude to nature that we hold enshrined because of Romanticism, means that we are now aware that nature is no longer the nature that it was. Romanticism came about in response to the industrialisation of the countryside. Now we know nature is no longer the sublime, the transcendent, the beautiful, the God-given. It is tainted. It is sad. It is ending.
You can’t say, “Hail to thee, blithe spirit!” any more like Shelley did, without being aware that the lark is in decline. If you read the Shelley again you read it with this new awareness and you bring this awareness to it.
Is there a problem then with a project like Arts & Ecology – or is there only a problem if you think about it in terms of “use”?
Oh, subtle question. I mean, you could say, arts and sport, or arts and economics, couldn’t you? And arts and anything? In fact my book Art and Science is part of a series of books that are art and anything… Art and Medicine, Art and Sex, and in a way you’re just making an interpretive selection. “Ok, let’s look towards all the art that looks at the environment, and look at environmental issues.” Which is different from being an agenda given to artists. Of course, how can you not make art about the environment? Nobody’s isolated.
So Arts & Ecology, or Art and Science, gives you a pair of critical glasses through which to look?
Yes. Yes it does.