Interviewsand Articles


Introduction to #12: Sustainability and Art

by Richard Whittaker, Aug 1, 2009



 We find ourselves contemplating the environment in issue #12. Directly and indirectly, the word sustainability comes up. As Sam Bower [] put it during a panel discussion at the Berkeley Art Center a couple of weeks ago, We'd like to stick around. The subject at hand was "Art, Nature and the Environment" with panel members: John Toki, Sam Bowers and Kathleen Cramer. During the discussion we were treated to three very different perspectives. As Sam sees it, art has a job to do, and it's not only raising consciousness. Artists can often actually help find and implement solutions to environmental problems. Sculptor John Toki speaks about the joys of being in contact with nature as he works, and about how he is fed by the physicality of his work. As E. F. Schumacher observed in his essay "Technology with a Human Face" we are beings with brains and hands. Both need to be engaged in creative, meaningful work. Playwright, librettist and poet Kathleen Cramer speaks about the most often overlooked dimension in discussions of the environment: that we each have an inner environment. Without the maintenance of a certain kind of open space inside, how can we begin to receive what we need to understand about the external environment? 

It seemed a good time to revisit our wonderful interview with Mildred Howard. We spoke with her some years ago when she was the director of the Alice Waters Garden at Martin Luther King Junior High in Berkeley. We talked about the everyday, deep and common satisfactions, that are simply of the essence of gardens, and how art just naturally finds a home there. From gardens -- life.  
Ladislav Hanka recently shared with me some notes he sent to photographer and author Ted Orland. Hanka's thoughts here are not directly related to the environment, but rather to the struggle of the artist in finding what's needed to sustain a sense of purpose. This, it might be said, is a meditation on the problems of sustainability related to a specific environment for a specific group of people, those who identify themselves as artists. Hanka brings us a perspective as someone who grew up in another place and culture: Czechoslovakia. What is really needed for artists and what are some of the environmental problems in the artworld here in the U.S.? 
Finally, we have Bob Woodsworth's reflections on artist and close friend, Arnold Shives. We featured Bob [co-founder of City Farmer in Vancouver, BC] in issue #17. Bob and Arnold have hiked many a wilderness mile together, have climbed many a peak in British Columbia and, on every such outing, Shives sketches, sketches and sketches. Woodsworth gives us a lyrical glimpse of an artist in thrall to the beauty of nature. 
And wrapping up #12, we are happy to introduce readers to Jari Chevalier, host of "Living Hero," a podcast series out of New York. In this audio interview we meet Jim Merkel, author of Radical Simplicity and wisdom holder. Here is a man who lives [well] in the U.S. on only $5000 dollars a year. Merkel walks his talk, and it's inspiring to listen to this interview. Jari hopes you'll send JIm some comments.
And that goes for us, too. We hope you'll send us your thoughts on whatever features move you. We love hearing from you.
—Richard Whittaker

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founder of works & conversations magazine.


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