What Is Environmental Art? - Definition, History & Movement

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  • 0:02 Environmental or Eco-Art
  • 0:37 Definition & Foundations
  • 1:47 History & Movements
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Benjamin Truitt

I have worked in higher education since 2008 when I began teaching in remedial ed and teach classes in Humanities, Philosophy, and Sociology. I have a Bachelors Degree from the University of Colorado at Denver in Philosophy with a minor in Theater and a Masters Degree in Humanities.

Environmental art, or eco-art, is an umbrella term for Romanticism, eco-realism, and Gaia Art: three movements which seek to promote humanity's interconnectedness to the natural world and criticize the destruction of our environment.

Environmental or Eco-Art

Environmental art, or eco-art, is best defined as a roof under which live many different art styles, techniques, and objectives. Just as a house is made up of different rooms that make one dwelling, environmental art is made up of various artists who share a common belief about the world: interconnectedness. While individual pieces may seem to share no similarities - some are dark and horrifying, some are beautiful and grand, and some are, well, weird - these artists all seek to show the importance of our interconnectedness to the natural world.

Definition & Foundations

Environmental art seeks to show how humanity should be grounded and connected to the natural world socially, philosophically, economically, and spiritually. Its artists identify the disconnect of humanity from the environment and attempt to rectify it through four different means:

  • Exposing and critiquing the ways in which humanity is derelict in its duty to preserve and be connected to the earth
  • Showing the limitedness and fragility of nature and the environment from disconnection
  • Highlighting how disconnectedness from the earth causes social inequality and injustice
  • Worshiping the beauty and greatness of nature and those connected to it

The eco-art movement contains a variety of sub-movements that seek, in different ways, to achieve these means. These art movements include:

  • Romanticism, which celebrates the beauty and greatness of nature and of people who are connected with it
  • Eco-realism, which exposes the horror and injustice of human pollution and environmental harm
  • Gaia Art, which spiritually connects to the environment through symbolism and authentic spiritual expression

History & Movements

Following the Enlightenment (1620-1780), humanity in Western society began to move away from agrarian living, trading farms and ranches for towns and cities. This move away from nature, coupled with the expansion of science and discovery, led to a backlash known as the Romantic movement (1800-1850). Following the Industrial Revolution, this movement became the Neo-Romantic movement (1850-present).

The Romantics worshiped the greatness and beauty of nature and believed mankind should be connected to it rather than detached from it. Seeking to inspire humanity to return to nature, they focused on images, music, and sculpture that recognized natural beauty and celebrated those connected to it. John Constable (1776-1837) famously painted natural landscapes and images of humanity rooted in and connected to nature's beauty. Constable's work exemplifies classic Romanticism with his idealization of those living in connection with the land.

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