Art for Earth's Sake by Satish Kumar and Lorna Howarth
The dominant strand in Western society is the strand of separation: the separation of mind from matter, science from spirituality, and art from life. From the Renaissance onwards, artists started to paint in isolation from other artisans, thus separating themselves from their fellow craftsmen and women, taking art into the realm of luxury and status and, in doing so, disconnecting art from the natural world and from life itself. Here art stayed, for centuries, something apart -- to be practiced only by those with special talent, and to be purchased only by those with great wealth.

It was Joseph Beuys in the 1960s who first said, "Everybody is an artist," and began the process of reclaiming art from the galleries and museums. Beuys began to reconnect art with ecology, politics and everyday life.

We need to reinstate art into our communities, into the land that we till and the clothes we wear. For what is life, if it is not integrated with art? Not only can art reinvigorate our communities, but it can also help to heal the wounds inflicted by an uncaring world on the very nature of our soul.

When the artist loses his or her sense of 'ownership' of a piece, then art becomes truly boundless. Susan Derges, frustrated by the sense of separateness that a camera places between herself and her subject matter, began to take photographs without using a camera, and uncovered fascinating patterns in nature that are paralleled in chaos theory. She writes, "I learned that in order to make a very strong piece of work I had to somehow get out of the way. It was interesting training for being very still and attentive and present. One had to make work respectful of place and of oneself, and so it couldn't be willful. That was the most interesting thing. It was such immediate evidence of the difference between making something willfully, and actually surrendering to something outside of your control, so that you are actually flowing with it, not controlling it."

It is perhaps this unknowable spirit in nature that imbues ecological art with a depth of meaning that is revelatory: video artist Bill Viola chooses elements like water and fire, and environments like woodlands and deserts to express our utter connectedness to the natural cycles of death and rebirth. Yet reverence for nature in itself is not enough: we need to inspire and express this reverence by working hand in hand with politicians and communities to articulate the meaning of art in the realities of life. Art innovator Nils Norman, in his 'Geocruiser' bus, running on biodiesel, with a solar-powered laptop and permaculture mobile garden, has done just that, bringing public sculpture into urban communities, creating an opportunity to experience ecological interdependence.

Only through reconnecting with nature, culture, spirituality, beauty, art and craft can we stride towards freedom from the tyranny of money, materialism and mass production, which have separated us from ourselves and alienated us from the Earth. While art is a liberating force, it is also a force for transformation and self-realization. It gives us a sense of belonging and unlocks the power of the imagination.

Satish Kumar and Lorna Howarth are co-editors of Resurgence, a publication promoting creativity, ecology, spirituality and frugality. This excerpt is from an essay of the same name originally published in volume #223, March/April 2003.

Artolatry bread image after Salvadore Dalí's Basket of Bread (1926).