Green Lion Association
Green Lion Academy for Sustainable Development

Green Lion Association

Working together with youth to create a sustainable future for all...

Art & Sustainability Essay/Research Contest

On this web page you will find copies of submissions to our Art & Sustainability contest. Students were asked to work in groups to come up with ideas on how art can be used to promote sustainability. Each group had a different approach to the theme and we are hoping that this initiative will inspire others to work on this subject. Please note that the copyrights belong to the respective authors and no material can be copied or printed without the permission of the authors and Green Lion Academy. The material is published as is and Green Lion Academy can not be held responsible for the contents of the papers posted on these web pages.

Submission 1:

Art & Sustainability

A Research By:

Opening Statement

With this essay our aim is to make an in-depth analysis of the relationship between art and sustainability. We look from different perspectives and establish the relationship between art and sustainability. We base our analyses on the artworks found on various websites or from our daily sights. The resources that we used are stated in the references section. It is very interesting to see that art can deliver the message of sustainability or actually have an effect on sustainability.

Art and Sustainability

Throughout the history, art has been under the influence of different purposes and philosophies. According to the timeline drawn by the Bellevue College, the very first example of art is the paintings found in caves that belong to the pre-historic times. An example of a cave painting that belongs to that time period can be the cave paintings found in the Magura Cave. Interestingly, when looking at this painting on the wall of the cave, we get a glimpse of the group of people that lived at that time. If we analyze in detail, we see at the top, there is a festivity going on. It seems like some of the people are dancing with their hands held up high suggesting that they are celebrating. The people at the bottom of the painting are holding bows and arrows indicating that they are hunting. So, simply by just looking and trying to understand the message given in the painting, we can see that those people are actually using this form of art to communicate their lifestyle to the ones who will look at this in the future. So in a way, they are trying make themselves permanent by reflecting what they see in their possible society to this wall of cave.

Another painting, which is done by Hans Holbein in 1553, is called The Ambassadors, which can be seen in Figure 2. Different from the cave painting, as indicated in the National Gallery's website, is an oil painting on oak. As discussed in our lectures, this painting belongs to the period where the figures in the painting are emphasized to the audience. These two gentlemen, with their expression and their posture clearly give the message that they are powerful and wealthy. Also, according to John Berger, the items that surround the painting show what they own and what they possess. The fur on the ambassador, the globe, the musical instrument, the book on the shelf give us information about their social status. So the aim of this painting is to stress the wealth of these ambassadors to the ones who were meant to look at this painting.

From 1960's we see the concept of "Pop Art" which is again is another form of art, which is mostly defined in terms of low art. In figure 3, we see Andy Warhol's art piece, which is called "Campbell's Soup Can." Looking at this picture, we immediately see a difference from the previous examples that we mentioned. A very famous soup brand is depicted in this piece of art. According to the Modern Museum of Art, the first exhibition of this painting "they were displayed together on shelves, like products in a grocery aisle." So looking at this artwork, we can understand that the very simple product of soup, which is heavily consumed, is shown to the audience. This can actually be a criticism to the world since the soup can, which is very cheap to consume, is presented to the viewers as the main figure of an artwork.

Although there are many other artworks in the history and many other styles, we chose only three paintings from different time periods to show that artwork has different meanings and is under different influences from time to time. A painting that was drawn in a cave wall has a very different meaning to an artwork that consists of many Campbell soup can paintings. So, from this analysis, we can say that art can be used as a medium to send a message to the audience. From this perspective, it is possible to talk about the concept of "Art and Sustainability." According to the Miriam Webster Dictionary, the word sustainable is "involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources." Art, who has been under different influences and meanings throughout the history, can also be linked to the word of sustainability. In this essay, we will be discussing the relationship of art and culture. First, we will establish how art can deliver the message of sustainability, just like the artworks that are mentioned above which all have different messages. The second part will be focusing on how some of the art that is unconsciously done can be unsustainable. So, this essay will be talking about the role of art and consequences of art in terms of "sustainability."

The message of sustainability is very significant nowadays due to the changes that we see in Earth. As consumption increases, there are more ways introduced to humans so that they can increase their consumption more and more. Nowadays, the supply and demand relationship defines the transactions done. More demand will trigger the supply; more supply will trigger demand and so on… However, the key point is that the majority of the resources that we use are not renewable; suggesting that at some point these resources will be finished and the demand might not get a response from the supply. On the other hand, majority of the resources we use harm the environment, which pollutes the other resources such as earth, water or air. Generally looking at the big picture, we see that the consumption triggers the use of resources that at the end harms us, the consumers. In addition, all of this explanation indicates that in order for us to continue live on Earth in healthy and balanced way, the current impacts of using these resources should be minimized in an environmental friendly way. This can be explained through scientific papers published by professors or can be explained through scientists via the media. However, nowadays, we see another medium, art, which is used to explain this current situation of the Earth. Some of the artists are using their art to tell their audience that environment is very much needed by the people and we need to preserve it. The following examples of artworks show us how sustainability and art can be used together to deliver a message, just like how "The Ambassadors" painting delivered the message of wealth of the gentlemen to its audience.

An article from the Huffington Post discusses how the sustainability concept is the focus of different artists right now. An artist mentioned in the article, Eve Mosher, is focused her artwork to make a change about the environment. From her website, we can see her artworks that try to give different messages to people. Her "High Water Line" project is a very interesting project that tries to understand the negative consequences of global warming. By using chalk, she draws a line in New York City. She also gets help from people along the way when marking the line. Looking at the pictures in figure 4 and figure 5, we see that the line is actually drawn in very odd places. After reading her aim and description in her website, we see that the line depicts where the possible water level will rise after the impacts of global warming. Someone who looks at the pictures of where the chalk goes through, gets inevitably worried because most of the houses, roads, gardens will be under water. This chalk for someone ignorant may depict nothing, but someone who wants to know more about the line which goes through odd places will become miserable since this is the possible boundary after the severe implications of global warming happens.

Moreover on the article from Huffington Post and the website of Eve Mosher, we see another artwork that combined with the concept of sustainability. This artwork, which can be seen from the pictures in figure 6 and figure 7, aims to get the attention of the people living in the city about the pollution. The artwork consists of people planting seeds on top of the roofs of buildings and having a flag to identify the buildings that decided to "go-green." This artwork is very interesting since it aims to change the reality of the city life. Most of the cities now are the most polluted places around world due to the excessive consumption of fossil fuels. Also to increase the number of buildings, green places are getting demolished everyday. This artwork creates green on top of the buildings which shows that green is more valuable and necessary than the buildings that are being built with a very fast pace. This "seed in the city" artwork combines the concept of art and sustainability. Furthermore, these artworks of Eve Mosher can be considered as artworks, which combine sustainability and art. Another interesting artwork that is explained in the Huffington Post is the artwork called "Connect the Dots" by Mary Miss. From her website, we can understand the logic that lies behind the artwork. She places big blue dots on to various places such as on trees and walls. This shows the height of the water, which reached in the history of floods of the region. The artwork, which can be seen in the figure 8, shows that people should always remember that floods are the part of this region and they should not ignore the facts about the flood. In the site of the artist, it is told "Looking from one point to the next, connecting the dots, the level and extent of a flood is no longer abstract." Even though one can see this as just a simple dot, the meaning of this artwork is much more than the color of blue or the shape circle. By reminding people where they live and what the place that they live went through, the artist is trying to the change the reality of the citizens. Just like Eve Mosher's work, this artwork has a meaning of reminding about the environmental impact of floods.

Looking at another artwork this piece, which can be seen from figure 9, is made from garbage. The shape of the artwork is a tree, which is ironic because the material that the tree is made from is garbage. This irony makes a very powerful stance about the current environmental issues. More or less, we know that the waste that humans produced over the years increased very significantly and continues to increase as our consumption gains pace. The disposal of garbage leads to pollution, which effects the environment since toxic materials are given out. Overall these gases affect every living organism on Earth including the trees, which are the lungs of our environment. When looking at this artwork, the first that comes to our mind is that how garbage can actually cost us a tree. This artwork clearly shows us that we have to be aware and take responsibility of our actions. Our consumption inevitably leads to garbage, which suggests that we take space and health from the environment that we live in.

As we searched the Internet about sustainability, it was very interesting to see that this concept is very popular and some of the artworks are very original. Another artwork that we came across to is a very large fish sculpture that is entirely made from plastic, which can be seen in figure 10. It placed near the sea and we believe that it has a very significant message to those people to pollute the sea and directly or indirectly affect the habitat of the sea. We know that plastic decomposes at a very slow rate and it is mostly a burden on the environment. Interestingly, the use of plastic is very wide; we see that this material causes the major impact on the environment. People who also pollute the sea via throwing away plastics and etc.. might not think that the living organisms will get affected. However, a material that is not found naturally under the sea will eventually lead to negative changes in the habitat of those living organisms. This artwork gives this message to the viewers indicating that these plastic causes hazard to the living organisms. The plastics that are thrown to the sea eventually become a part of the fish, which may lead to extinction. So this artwork shows us that whatever we do as humans to contaminate the environment via unnatural resources affects something or someone directly or indirectly.

All these examples of sustainable art try to give a message to the audience of the artwork. As mentioned at the very beginning, art always had an intention of reminding or telling its audience an idea or an intention. This form of art, remind the audience the concept of sustainability since it is becoming a threat to us. Someone cannot pull himself or herself from this issue since we live under the same roof and use more or less the same environment. Even though this form of art does indicate a solution to the problems, it increases the awareness of people. Curiosity starts from being aware of the issues. The artists that created the artworks explained above, all try to increase the awareness of the people that will see the artworks on a daily basis. Someone who comes to swim will see the fish sculpture made from plastic bottles. Someone who walks from his/her home to his/her job may come across to the chalk line, which is not drawn randomly. People who will question the existence of these artworks will learn more and more about sustainability and possibly adopt a sustainable lifestyle.

The artwork in figure 11, which resembles an explosion after atom bomb, is another example of how recycled materials can become useful in artworks. It is made by Cuban artists Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz and has the shape of a mushroom cloud, which appeared after the atomic bomb. It is done gathering old pieces of fabrics , it reminds us the fact that the artworks and garbage can be used in a harmony. Here once more we realize how used materials may provide sustainability. Recycling the old clothes into an atomic bomb shaped structure shows us the unpleasant reality of humankind as well, in which we understand that if the world goes on getting polluted by us in an unsustainable way, we might end up in devastation. So in order to provide a better environment for humanity to live in, we must agree on the point that sustainability is a necessity. It is easy to have a sustainable world by recycling and this artwork example shows us the potential outcome of a world that is deprived from sustainability.

In the figure 12 we see the materials that do not have a further value being used to create a unique artwork. These old bikes would probably rot in a dumpster and be a burden to the environment. However, artists Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector create this arch from 300 old bikes in California. After building this arch, these bikes become useful and cover the space of the environment by being an arch not a waste dump. These artists show that from old bikes they can create sustainable environment. The materials that we would not normally use when building an arch is used in this particular artwork. They show that even the pieces of used garbage may be used to emphasize sustainability. Usage of garbage as artwork can be seen in the photograph in figure 13, as well. Another interesting illustration of recycled art in the world is people sculpture made from garbage. It is created by the artist HA Schult and comprises of 1000 human figures made from trash. The trash includes aluminum cans, computer parts and various plastics. The artwork traveled nearly to everywhere including China's Great Wall, Egyptian Pyramids, Paris and New York. We believe that this is more than an artwork. With this artwork, artist Schult shows us how trashes can be converted into striking art pieces. Besides, he shows the waste that we create in the form of humans. So clearly it reminds us our actions by creating an army of humans. Each trash we throw turns against us and by each act of polluting, we effect the future generations.

Not only by materializing in 3D, but also forming an image from unusable supplies is alternative illustration to show how art and sustainability can exist together in coherence. It is obvious that most of us do not even bother to check mailboxes and posts we receive in our daily lives. Even if we check them, we often decide to throw them away. However, American artist Sandhi Schimmel creates an unusual artwork by assembling the tax paperwork and political junk mails. Here she forms a noticeable woman face from those supplies. She uses art as a tool to show how much paperwork is printed out and not being used for their original purpose. She would have chosen to throw away her junk mails or other kind of impractical posts as well, but she chose to show people how to use art as a tool to show their different use.

The photo in the figure 15 is from the artwork called "The Astro Boy." This art is done by the volunteers, which gathered 138,000 Tokyo Metro tickets that have been thrown away. It is displayed at the Shinjuku Takashimaya Department Store and it is also another example for us to figure out how art and sustainability can exist together in attraction. The used metro tickets forms an entirely unusual piece of collage in which we realize how the scraps can be turned into visual use in a sustainable way. Accordingly, it tells us that, to have a sustainable environment we, as humanity, should try to discover alternative ways of using the impractical materials into daily use. At this point art shows itself again as a perfect choice to create a sustainable environment in which the phase between brand-new and used can be united to form an artwork.

Close to the fish sculpture example given before, a similar one can be seen in Turkey as well. With the encouragement of the Ministry of Culture, YUM- DER (Yumurtalık Sosyal Kalkınma Kültür Turizm Doğa Varlıklarını Koruma Derneği ) picked up some trashes from the Mediterranean Sea which includes various plastics. Again by this example, we understand the importance of art, which delivers the message of sustainability.

All of these examples are done to show us how art can be applied to deliver a message about the environment. They are created to show us how even the trashes can be turned into art pieces. All of these objects are made for us to appreciate how vital a clean environment is. Art is a great instrument to reflect sustainability, it is an alternative method to turn garbage into aesthetic sculptures or useless paper works into beautiful paintings but despite all these, essentially we should understand not to contaminate our environment. From this perspective art can be a tool for realization. Art and Sustainability should co-exist as long as it helps us to figure out that the world can exist only to the extent that we take care of it.

Up to this point in the essay we talked about artworks that gave a message about sustainability. So the artist through his or her work tried to tell something about the environment. However, we would like to also talk about how art can itself haven an impact on the environment. This impact can be both negative and positive. By explaining the effects of "art" itself, we believe that we can establish a better understanding of the relationship of art and sustainability. We have discussed and found examples of our own from the places that we visited or saw on a daily basis.

Places that we live in, we see art works like sculptures, decorations that makes our world enjoyable and pleasant. These artworks are on the routes, in our schools; shortly they are in every part of our life. As mentioned before these art works affect the sustainability in a positive or in a negative way. For example, near the highways there are decoratively planted flowers by the municipalities. These flowers are eye-pleasing works, because they add color to a typical road. Our first impressions of these flowers are always positive since they are pleasing to look at. However, when we think about the process of planting and taking care of these flowers, these planted flowers easily weaken as a result of environmental pollution like exhaust gasses. Also, they weaken with the climate conditions of Ankara and these delicate flowers require more care by the workers who plant them. When these decorative flowers die, municipality workers change them with new ones. These procedures consume energy and time and it can be seen as an unsustainable movement. Likewise, tulips gardens in Istanbul can be shown as an example. People who pass by a tulip garden may pick them up or litter the garden. Obviously with the pollution, harsh environment conditions and external damage done to them is not sustainable. Unfortunately, these tulips are being planted every year, which consumes time, energy and money. Altogether, this decorative movement becomes unsustainable. Even though tulips are pleasant to look at, the process behind planting and taking care of them consumes a lot. This leads us to think whether or not if this is a sustainable movement for a very large and populated city.

Another example we found that could be analyzed within this framework is the sculptures and ornamental pools. In such a way that, a sculptor creates an ornamental pool or sculpture and these are situated in our living area. We have seen that some sculptures have an oval part and rainwater fills that part during a heavy rain. Since that oval part of the sculpture has water inside, animals could drink it since it acts as a water supply. The main intention is not for the use of animals. However, the shape makes this sculpture or the pool for animals to drink water. In a way, we believe that this makes it sustainable since it helps the environment without consuming an extra energy. Similarly, some houses to have a decorative look are built in a way that they have a perpendicular roof. These buildings appear attractive and because of the shape of that roof, when there is rain, roof does not accumulate rainwater and all the water flows straight to the land. Moreover, if we assume that in front of that building there is grass or flowers, the rainwater helps them to have more water. In a way, this does not consume energy and adds a feature to the sustainable environment. This does not require too much thinking or work, all this happens due to the shape of the roof.

Furthermore, to have an interesting interior design, some people have started to use organic, natural furniture. Such as, tree trunk furniture or coffee tables. Since this furniture has been made through a natural process, there isn't a significant loss of energy compared to the furniture that is synthetic. They contain natural resources that are being used directly for furniture. In a similar manner, some artists gather tree branches to create home furniture like chairs, decorative tools. This furniture appears decorative and actually gives a very calming and relaxing atmosphere for the interior design. We believe that since the trees are not lost in the process, this can be seen as a sustainable art.

To prevent their balconies or their window, some people put sharp triangle fences for the birds not to come. Some of these materials do not give the impression of being a fence; they even look very artistic and seem just like a part of the buildings design. However, these materials block the birds to come and rest. People do this, because they do not want to see the possible mess that the birds will leave in their building. We believe that this even though looks artistic, is not sustainable because it may hurt the birds. Some of the birds can get injured or maybe cannot find a place to escape from a possible rain.

We also would like to give an example, which can be considered as a performance to the audiences that go to see those shows especially. There are many zoos that have dolphin shows around the world. There is a very huge demand for those shows due to the fact that the animals perform interesting and amazing tricks that you would not be able to see in the ocean or sea. These shows possibly make significant amount of profit, because it is very rare to see dolphins in a possible lifetime. For these reasons, we believe that the industry, which does these shows, are increasing and captivating more and more dolphins. Even though the audience have a very enjoyable time during those shows, we are aware that to have those shows these dolphins are kept within cages and forced to do tricks. To educate dolphins, it could be said that, trainers almost torture them and animals are forced to obey some rules to get their awards. Since it is not their nature to perform for the audience. This is against nature and this performance is not sustainable because there is a lot of energy consumption going on in the process. These animals do not live under healthy conditions and most probably they have many problems. This performance can be another example that we found which may seem aesthetic and pleasant however has an unsustainable nature within itself.


From the examples that we have found, we believe that a rock that is misplaced for a reason can even become sustainable or unsustainable. As we analyzed throughout this essay, there are many ways that we can establish a relationship between art and sustainability. Many artists due to the changes in climate and environment focuses on creating artworks that specifically give messages to make the audience think. Someone who will swim in the sea may see the large fish sculpture made from plastic bottles and question that sculpture. Even if one person understands the message that artwork deliver, soon the word might spread. So, the power of the artwork should never be ignored. We are living in a time period where the interaction between people is very minimized due to the technology. We do not question or try to think more and more about a subject since the answers are just a click away from us. These issues, just like many issues around the world disappear and become the main concern of a very minor group since ignorance has been common in many societies. So the power of artwork in which to deliver the artwork becomes very significant since it appeals and attracts people. A large fish sculpture, dots on trees, chalk line on roads, huge army of human made from garbage all attract a pedestrian that may pass those sculptures. Moreover, having examples of art which effect the environment in a sustainable or unsustainable way shows that our actions and projects need more thought and time before creating. Having consuming energy even if it is not necessary might seem less of a burden for some people. However, we should know that accumulation of waste of energy creates more and more effects to the environment and eventually to us. We should take more time and thinking before starting a project. Having flowers that die in a climate that they cannot endure should have an alternative. Maybe, flowers that endure that specific climate should be planted instead of those ones. With this way less energy will be spent on these flowers, and maybe that gained energy can be put into good use. The whole sustainability idea relies on the energy since everything starts and continues with energy. Environment, relationship of humans and even the places that buildings are meant to be built depend on the energy. In addition, art and sustainability is more than a concept. It is an area, which the people should take more time thinking and searching since it effects the environment that we live in. All of this analysis shows how sustainability and art are powerful in terms of delivering a message or effecting the environment.

List of Figures

Figure 1. Cave Paintings - Doorway Through Time. (2010, May 8). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 2. The Ambassadors. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2014, from
Figure 3. MoMA Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 4. HighWaterLine. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 5. HighWaterLine. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 6. Seeding the City. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 7. Seeding the City. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 8. Miss, M. (n.d.). Connect the Dots. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 9. Clean-Up South Africa. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 10. Eco art installation Mega Fishes on the beach in Brazil. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 11. Guerra de La Paz Wears Their Art On Their Sleeves. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 12. Bicycle Art. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 13. Cologne, Trash People, H.A. Schult. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 14. Recycled Art Created from Junk Mail Makes Fine Art Pop. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 15. Astro Boy Mural Created From 138,000 Recycled Tokyo Metro Tickets. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Figure 16. Timeturk: Haber, Timeturk Haber, HABER, Günün haberleri, yorum, spor, ekonomi, politika, sanat, sinema. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from


Art History Style Periods. (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2014, from
Cave Paintings - Doorway Through Time. (2010, May 8). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
The Ambassadors. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2014, from
Berger, J. (2008). Ways of seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books.
MoMA Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Sustainable. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Grant, D. (n.d.). "Sustainability" Has Become a Growing Focus of Artists' (and Art Schools') Attention. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
HighWaterLine. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Seeding the City. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Miss, M. (n.d.). Connect the Dots. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Clean-Up South Africa. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Eco art installation Mega Fishes on the beach in Brazil. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Guerra de La Paz Wears Their Art On Their Sleeves. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Bicycle Art. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Cologne, Trash People, H.A. Schult. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Recycled Art Created from Junk Mail Makes Fine Art Pop. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Astro Boy Mural Created From 138,000 Recycled Tokyo Metro Tickets. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Timeturk: Haber, Timeturk Haber, HABER, Günün haberleri, yorum, spor, ekonomi, politika, sanat, sinema. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from