art design ideas thought fodder

Sustainable Creativity

As an artist who cares about the environment, I am keenly aware of all the stuff I put into the world when I make things. I am also aware of the resources I consume in making those things.

We have reached critical mass with over-consumption and over-production in society, especially American society. Visit any antique store and look at all the useless crap that sits on shelves, of no real purpose other than having something to look at. I’m speaking of figurines and tschotchkes mostly, although even dishes, which do serve a purpose, can become useless if there are too many of them no one wants.

Many of these items are made of porcelain, glass, resins, or plastics, which don’t easily decompose. Why do we need all this stuff?  What do we do with the tschotchkes that break but not completely? Landfill, landfill, landfill is the easy answer. But, what can we do with it all if we don’t want it to end up in a landfill? How do we reuse this weird, useless stuff when we can’t throw it into a recycling bin?

There are artists who base their art forms on using tschotchkes and broken dishes and sundry unrecyclable items in their art, giving them a second life and new purpose. That’s a good thing, but how do we break the cycle of making useless things in the first place?

People have a burning need to make things. How do we feed this need and simultaneously not put more useless crap into the world? How can we develop more sustainable creative activities from the outset of the creative process (from cradle-to-grave as it were)?

I’ve cobbled together a few solutions as an artist.

  1. I don’t make as much stuff. A pretty simple solution, I’d say.
  2. I make projects that take a long time, so though I’m making fewer things, the process is more exacting and feeds my need for creativity.
  3. I create using more compact processes. For example, a lot of my creativity comes out through writing, which takes notebooks and pen, pretty compact tools. Or, I write using a laptop computer, so the end result is digital. Or, I take digital photos. This isn’t a great solution because computers use a lot of precious resources and are difficult to recycle completely, but I do keep my computers running for many years past when they would normally be due for replacement.
  4. I make stuff that has a use other than simply being beautiful. So, when it comes to fiber art, I make clothing or bags or blankets/quilts.
  5. I try to use materials that can be reused, recycled or will decompose over time. Most natural fibers (my preferred fiber choice) will eventually break down with use. So will paper, which can also be recycled. Fiber arts projects that get tatty, like items of clothing, can be cut up to use as rags, so they get an extra life.

I would add to this list the idea that any manufactured item ought to be designed to be easily repaired and sturdy enough for long-term use. In other words, the exact opposite of planned obsolescence, which is the awful treadmill manufacturers have put us on so that we keep spending and spending and wasting resources. It’s time for creative people to get off that treadmill by rethinking how we create.

Are you a creative who is concerned about sustainability? If so, how do you navigate the use of resources in your work? How do you preserve and conserve in the making of your art?