How Climate Changes Art

How Climate Changes Art

art is made of natural materials stone pigment wood clay fibers and metals even water fog and ice it's also made of stuff that is seemingly less natural but still made from things we derive from the earth art is also notoriously difficult to preserve we devote considerable resources to keeping a selection of it secured at the perfect temperature and humidity so that it has a fighting chance of outliving us mortals and we fail at these efforts all the time some works can't be put in a museum or shouldn't be great wonders of the world crumble masterpieces fade and the paths of glory lead but to the grave but art is also the stoic residue of humankind's unstoppable urge to create to forgive another poetry reference rage against the dying of the light the things humans make come from the earth and are also highly susceptible to it art can help reveal the world around us frame it amplify it and also highlight our precarious relationship to it this is the fourth of five videos focusing on a much discussed aspect of life today and looking back to see how people from the past have made artworks and objects that speak to it in some way this time we look at art and climate first we're gonna look at some very special maps that bear little resemblance to the digital kind I'm completely reliant upon and can't get anywhere without the objects were gonna look at come from the Marshall Islands which consists of more than 1200 islands in eastern Micronesia and span more than 700 thousand nautical square miles as you'll notice what joins them is the sea and it was an exceptional ability to navigate that seed that first brought humans to these islands thousands of years ago and it's what has linked them together to this day called meadow a rebel it these are navigational charts made from bamboo or palm leaf sticks and tied together with twine shells are tied on to indicate islands but this isn't a map of land it's a map of water an ingenious way of charting ocean currents and the interaction of swell patterns in the waters that link the islands together each chart is unique showing the way an individual Seafarer understood the bodies of water they were familiar with their mental maps to help navigators memorize the sea constructed and consulted on land and left on shore when their journeys began the charts were used to plot and communicate routes and pass along knowledge gleaned over generations understanding the sea has always been critical to life on the Marshall Islands and these charts encompass a vast amount of information necessary for survival some of these were collected by visitors to the islands and made their way into museums and public collections where they're appreciated for their formal beauty an elegant synthesis of complex information before the marshalese these charts are much more than that not only illustrating the relationship between land and sea so integral to life but also coming to represent identity for people who have faced considerable hardship and acute threats to their ways of life after occupation by a number of foreign powers over centuries the Marshall Islands were seized from Japan by US forces in 1944 and then famously became the site for nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll from 1946 to 1958 today the Republic of the Marshall Islands most urgent threat along with continued contamination from testing is climate change with global warming and rising sea levels imperiling their very existence art has long captured the tremendous beauty of Earth and its climate as well as its variability and our powerlessness to it you can think about Katsushika Hokusai under the wave off Kanagawa part of his polychrome woodblock series of prints titled 36 views of Mount Fuji each image gives us at least a glimpse of the mountain and in this particular print we see it in the distance as a giant wave occupies much of the foreground about to crash down upon three fishing boats and their occupants well scientists think it was not a depiction of a tidal wave and instead just a rogue wave caused by high winds in an area notorious for its rough seas the image has nonetheless been called upon to represent a host of natural disasters but in its essence the great wave as it's come to be called embodies our struggle both to harness the natural forces of Earth and protect ourselves from their ravages artists have well documented the extremes of our climate as well as average temps and beautiful vistas and yes I know that weather is weather and climate is the weather conditions that happen over a long period or in general but artists have done a tremendous job of recording our climate and our effects on it like Dorothea Lange's unforgettable photographs of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s when dust storms wreaked havoc through much of the United States due to misguided farming methods a nearly decade-long drought Pieter Bruegel the elders paintings do a good job of showing us the climate shift that occurred between the 16th and 19th centuries that we now refer to as the Little Ice Age his painting hunters in the snow from 1565 offers us a scene of regular people going about winter life in a rural village Bruegel was flemish but the scene isn't terribly faithful to the landscape of the Low Countries what with the topography of this valley and the steep mountain faces in the distance but what he does capture very effectively is cold with three bundled up hunters heads down trudging home with their dogs through the snow in the mid ground we see skaters on a frozen pond pulling each other playing games and yes also falling it's one a number of winter landscapes painted by Bruegel ash onra for which he's well known and one of six paintings that form a cycle describing the seasons of the year and the various labors associated with it there had been a long tradition of portraying the months of the year and the activities that go along with them a chronicling of the succession of seasons that many artists would continue to investigate claude monet painted the haystacks near his home in giovanni france numerous times between 1890 and 91 showing the same subject appearing vastly different depending on the shifting light and seasons but the climate shifts that Bruegel gives us a window on to were not merely cyclical this picture was painted during the coldest winter of the sixteenth century the Little Ice Age which was not extreme enough to be called an actual Ice Age nonetheless led to food shortages and famine and we can see increased rates of illness and suicide during this time as well but Brueghel's painting shows us the everyday amid this larger shift the hardships as well as the light-hearted moments of play but just as climate shapes the kind of art being made climate also of course shapes art itself because art is both of the world and in it and so often to preserve valued works and structures communities must frequently rebuild them located in central Mali the great mosque of djenne a is the largest mud built structure in the world its first iteration is thought to have been constructed in the 13th century commissioned by Jenny's first Muslim Sultan and the town is located in the Sahel the transitional grassland between the Sahara Desert to the north and the savanna to its south Jenny's traditional mud brick architecture requires constant upkeep and replastering with every rainy season washing away plaster and eroding the brick after considerable deterioration to the first mosque a second was built between 1834 and 35 and a third was completed in 1907 over centuries the size layout and design evolved and adapted but the basic technique and distinctive style remain linked to the original with an annual replastering festival still happening to this day every April before the rainy season the entire town participates in the work of adding a new layer to the mosque's exterior usually the women provide the water to make the mud mixture while the men do the actual mixing and application using the timber beams that extend from the mosques exterior to help climb it all around musicians perform and elders watch and give advice the entire event a celebration of their faith community and cultural heritage investors have offered to modernize the building remaking it in concrete but those efforts have been resisted despite the mosque being under near constant threat not just due to the climate of Mali but also the more frequent flooding of the rivers that surround it as well as encroaching violence and political unrest this great mosque has always been fragile always contingent on perpetual maintenance and its existence will continue to rest in the hands of its caretakers the keepers of the Issei shrine and Japan's me a Prefecture have taken a different approach to the preservation of their holy site called Jingu it's a complex of 125 shinto shrines including one dedicated to naiku the Sun Goddess thousands of rituals unfold here each year but every 20 years a ritual takes place here called chicken n seungu in which the shrine of naiku is completely reconstructed directly adjacent to the current one and it's been happening for around 1,300 years the process begins with the ritual cutting of the first trees for the new shrine and takes about eight years to complete concluding with the transfer of the holy mirror from the old site to the new locals take part in transporting the timbers and other ceremonies to mark the relocation the tradition keeps the community bonded to the site shields the shrine from the inevitable effects of aging preserves the original design and perhaps most importantly keeps the skills of artisans alive imparting techniques to the next generation each time emerging from Shinto conceptions of death renewal and the impermanence of all things this ritual allows the shrine to survive through continual reframing and rebirth it's a whole different task to protect an entire city from the eroding effects of our climate Venice Italy's location at the top of the adriatic sea makes it vulnerable to natural flooding when winds push water into the lagoon on top of which the city was built a process that started around the first century CE II today the city's dwindling population of permanent residents is well-acquainted with the Aqua Alta or the high waters that routinely push into the city and flood its famous and less famous squares and then recede again but this flooding has become increasingly frequent and the average water level has risen due to both the sinking of the land and the rising of the sea levels due to climate change many factors contribute to Venice's fragile state including the hordes of tourists dropped off here daily from cruise ships whose traffic and wakes erode the city's foundations project mosai is a massive civil engineering effort underway to construct a seawall designed to lift on command to 10 feet above the water and protect the lagoon from high tides the project is not yet complete and must balance numerous aims including the preservation of salt marshes mud flats marine life and the entire lagoon ecosystem and yet there aren't any other good options not really with the Mediterranean Sea projected to rise up to 5 feet before the year 2100 the architectural marvel that is Venice full of cultural treasures spanning centuries has depended on engineering ingenuity since its founding and will continue to for as long as it exists sometimes nothing can be done to protect our cultural heritage except completely closing off access the Magnificent cave paintings in Lascaux France were created approximately 15,000 years ago and only rediscovered in 1940 the survival of these depictions of prehistoric wildlife human-like figures and abstract designs was made possible by the uniquely dry surface of white calcite rock upon which our unknown artists applied charcoal and ochre the Lascaux caves were open to the public from their discovery until 1963 and many understandably flocked to experience this astounding immersive work of art but the delicate environment of the cave was thrown off by the number of visitors whose exhaled breath changed the caves chemistry mold and lichen began to grow putting the paintings at risk while the cave has indeed been closed the public you can still visit replicas close to the original site to experience their beauty and appreciate all that we don't know about these original paintings we must look at photographs and footage and accept the replicas with the assurance of knowing that these remarkable creations are safeguarded from the damage we humans caused even when we try hard not to and then there are the artworks created to reveal and highlight the fluctuations of our climate like Robert Smithson Spiral Jetty extending off Roselle Point Peninsula on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah spiral jetty was constructed over the course of a week in April of 1970 Smithson hired a construction crew to move over 6,000 tons of Earth and black basalt rocks from the shoreline to form a coil 15 feet wide and 1500 feet long at the time the water level of the lake met the edge of the coil but it became submerged only a couple of years later it remained mostly underwater until 2002 when drought caused it to re-emerge it's been visible since then often with water far off in the distance and its appearance shifts dramatically depending not only on water level but also the microbes and algae that can turn the lake a reddish color as well as the salt from the lake that encrusts the jetty it's here that you can contemplate geologic time when the popped surfaces of the jetties basalt rocks were formed by gases trapped in erupting lava and also the origin of the lake itself a shallow remnant of Lake Bonneville which during the Pleistocene epoch covered the entire western half of Utah and Beyond Spiral Jetty emerged from Smithson's preoccupation with the idea of entropy and he understood the work would exist in a state of constant transformation its form never fixed and susceptible to decay from the moment it was created Earth's climate has changed throughout its existence with numerous cycles of glacial advance and retreat but we know for sure that our planet is getting warmer and at an alarming rate most of our warming has occurred within the last 35 years with the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010 the rate of Antarctic ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade and glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world and we also know this warming is largely driven by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere a number of artists working today make art that speaks to our changing world Zaria Foreman paints retreating glaciers inspired by flights she took with nasa's operation icebridge oleifera liason transported 30 icebergs from Greenland to London and presented them in front of Tate Modern where visitors could touch and interact with the ice blocks that had detached from the Greenland ice sheet from which a thousand similar blocks of ice detach every second Mel Chin's unmoored offers us views through a mixed reality app exploring a potential future of rising oceans filling Times Square the world we live in and the objects we make to put into it are fragile art can help us appreciate our planet and its climate reveal to us its workings and visualize imminent futures what are the works of art and architecture and objects that help you better understand our planet and its shifting climate let's talk about it in the comments if you'd like to learn more about climate change in a way that doesn't paralyze you with terror check out hot mess a show produced by PBS Digital Studios and hosted by some supremely knowledgeable and talented friends of mine the show covers the science behind climate change and a whole lot more this episode was made in partnership with smart history an outstanding resource for anyone curious about art and cultural objects from around the world thanks to all of our patrons for supporting the art assignment especially our grand masters of the Arts Vincent app' and Ernest Wolfe you

41 thoughts on “How Climate Changes Art

  1. There is a medieval church in Northern Poland which became famous due to the fact that it is being eaten away bit by bit by the ever expanding Baltic Sea and it is very likely it will be destroyed completely in the following decades. Today only a part of its wall stands on a high cliff overlooking the sea. If not for erosion it would be just another church. Instead, people from around the country come to see it before it's gone. A work of architecture became a symbol of passing and the immense might of the sea. There was a plan to move this remaining wall further inland to protect it… but it did not happen. Maybe we should let it go.

  2. I don't understand why the Marshallese navigating charts should be considered art. It seems like the people who made them were making them for utilitarian needs and not trying to make them look pretty, convey emotion, or convey meaning. I don't understand why they are treated as art rather than just historical artifacts.
    I'll admit they are pleasing to look at, but I don't think that was the intention.

  3. thankyou! i do #climatestrike and make art with mostly recycled or upcycled materials. will check out hot mess =]

  4. I thought this was a video about how climate changes art, not illustrations of art being influenced by climate. Saying Hokusai evokes climate change by using a logo of waves is just grasping for straws.

    I don't negate climate change but this is seriously insulting towards the respective artists for not understanding their original intentions and just pushing it to fit your own agenda.

  5. The beauty of The Art Assignmemt is that it makes me come back again and again and look for details that I missed. Not to forget the fact that the videos present the art in such a manner that it compels me to go and search and learn more about them. This I think is a way of preserving art; by informing more people about it, the artworks are preserved in our memories. We remember the ones that are lost, and strive to preserve the ones that aren't, even if all that I can personally do is preserve them in my memory.
    Thank you to the entire team of Art Assignment! I am sending you big hugs ❤

  6. Oooh, if You're making videos for the AP Art history folks, can you do one for AP Art + Design too? Especially about the synthesis of materials, processes, and ideas? Thanks for considering!

  7. The first episode ever that talk a lot of architecture world than others episode.
    Please make a video about art and architecture.

  8. What Zen Bullshit Artists Think: Modern art is like 100 years old.
    Power is a word the meaning of which we do not understand. — Tolstoy
    Power comes from the control of energy. Oil made Wall Street banks powerful.
    Private banks stole public credit 100 years ago. Modern civilization is 100 years old. ie – phones, cars, planes etc.Capitalism, Communism, Propaganda, Feminism, Organized Crime etc. as we know them today are all about 100 years old.

    These things have been around forever, but were all writ large with the advent of massive banks, mass propaganda, mass electrification, mass transport etc. All came into their current forms because of advanced technology.

    All our technology came from oil 100 years ago when robber barons of the gilded age stole the credit and currency of the citizens of the United States.

    The lust for power from oil, and the fear of loss of power to communism, took over the US 100 years ago. We are so far removed from that time that most people do not know about the history of when modern civilization began.

    The birth of bank power happened at the same time communism was born, which started a war, which fueled a boom, which led to a bust, which led to a war… etc. etc.

    Power, energy, propaganda have driven the the boom-bust-war cycle 3 times since 1914, through 3 world wars.

    The 3rd world war started in 1990 as a kinder, gentler war, and in 2001 turned into the sadistic forever war of today.

    The big banks bought out communist China 50 years ago.

    When a Canadian clock manufacturer started sending jobs to China in the 1950s, it was the beginning of the end for western civilization. By the 1970s, Canadian ceramic souvenirs were made in China and shipped to Canada, for sale to US tourists.

    China is now king of the world. Both the US and China want Muslim oil. This means war. That war will heat up in August.

    The Guns of August — The Automatic Earth

    The boom-bust-war cycle is inexorably reaching its logical conclusion, the biggest boom-bust-war of all time.

    The only thing that is stopping China from complete world dominance is oil and computer chips. China imports 90% of its computer chips from the US.

    We are at the very beginning of the bust cycle. German and Chinese banks are stretched out beyond their limits, at exactly the time when humanity faces food and water shortages.

    The 2024 collapse of civilization was predicted 50 years ago.

    The only thing we know different now is that we are going to kill all life on earth faster than anything earth has ever seen.

    It took the dinosaurs 13,000 years to die off, we're going to make the asteroid look like child's play because we have ignited an explosive plankton die off event in our oceans.

    We have also triggered a massive land die off because humans and livestock caused 80% of species extinctions over land.

    The petro-pharma-chemical wipe out of biomes on land is causing runaway infertility. We are killing and poisoning everything too fast for life on earth to cope.

    The atmosphere on earth is not a permanent thing and I fear we are accelerating its demise. Physicists say that we may hasten the end of air on earth, and that the vacuum of space will descend to the ground sooner than we like to imagine.

    Our socio-economic ideologies are not designed for shortages.

    What this means is that we have to redefine money, power and energy, which is easy to do because we don't even know what money is. We've forgotten. The only way I can even imagine how to do that is to tax wealth and pay 100% of it back in a universal basic income. This will never work because both socialists and capitalists want control, or power, over that money.

    We have the solution but not the will to do what must be done.

    The brain poison you see in the news is 100 years old, that's why so many of you don't know this stuff.

  9. Great video! You always succeed in covering art from a lot of different cultures all over the world, wich is something my traditional art history courses fail me. I always love reading the comments on these videos aswell. Art is made to start conversation and debate, something I think this channel does really well.

  10. What about the Harrison studio, Frances Whitehead & the countless artist activists who are working in interdisciplinary positions where they’re providing examples of how conversations around larger ecological concerns in art are giant cycling pits of representations. It seems callous to focus on artists who merely represent or arbitrarily intervene in the landscape (Smithson). I wish this channel wasn’t so committed to the western standard of Art History.

  11. I really appreciate the hard work and research that goes into these videos. I find them very inspiring and encouraging. Thank you to all involved with making them.

  12. Wait a minute, something's not right, it has been twelve hours since you uploaded this wonderful video, but it only has 6,100 views and 37 comments. Usually there's a lot more of both. Maybe there was a problem with Youtube showing the new video to everyone. Anyways, I would like to take the oportunnity to tell you, in the most sincere and respectful manner, that you are truly remarkable not only for the content you provide, but also for your natural beauty; not that beauty matters at all, as the things that actually matter are inside, but it's a nice fact nontheless. (I hope my drafting is ok, as english is not my primary language). Looking forward to more great, informative content in here. Have a nice day. 🙂

  13. This is one of my favourite episodes!!! You have such a talent of explaining complex topics really clearly and interestingly

  14. So, are the evening weather green screen art? Are the lower neck lines of women's clothes also an effect? Art critics name dropping entropy when scientists have a hard time being succinct? Whatever, I just exist in the quadriplegic disdain of normal life

  15. in my town there is a water front. theres a little bridge. under it is a little waterway. i took nearby rocks and made a wall out of them. i thought for a while they will stay up, months later i revisted them to see the rocks dispersed everywhere leaving a few lines of straight fashion. i realized no matter how we try to make our mark time and nature fades us away.

  16. Beautiful video and very informative. A small correction though: the Naiku shrine is dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu. Naiku is simply an independent name for the shrine.

  17. I have a strange relationship to art (and most of the world) in that while I love it and I think it’s wonderful to have connections to the past, I also think part of the beauty of things is that everything passes into dust.

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