Green art – from collapse to resilience?

In the Economist, Robert Butler writes that GOING GREEN is about artistic change as much as technological change, and that green art is moving away from themes of doom and collapse and towards themes of resilience, survival, adaptation and improvisation.  He writes:

Every big scientific moment is also a cultural one. The Lisbon earthquake that killed an estimated 30,000 people in 1755 gave birth to the science of seismology. It also inspired writings by Kant, Rousseau and, most famously, Voltaire, who describes the earthquake in “Candide”, and the impact it had on the notion that there was a benevolent God watching over “the best of all possible worlds”. A century later, the ideas in Darwin’s “Origin of Species” would be played out, absorbed and contested in the novels of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. Fifty years after that, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity paved the way for modernism in all the arts. …

This may be the moment, in my last Going Green column, to spell out this column’s idea of going green. It is not first and foremost about changing to low-energy lightbulbs, driving a Prius, cutting back on flights, insulating your loft or growing vegetables on your roof. All these are worth doing, so long as you remember the words of the British government’s chief scientific adviser, David Mackay—“If everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little.” Going green is more about absorbing the scientific consensus that has emerged over the last 50 years: resources are finite, the planet is fragile, our activities are having a dangerous impact on the atmosphere. To take this on board is to change the way you see the world. Even people who resent the sanctimonious tendencies of the greens can see that a great cultural shift has taken place; one that, in the opinion of Tim Smit, who founded the Eden Project in Cornwall, may turn out to be as far-reaching as the Renaissance or the Reformation.

Does that mean that art-lovers and theatre-goers are in for many more gloomy, doom-laden paintings and plays? Perhaps not. The response from artists is moving rapidly away from the clichés of collapsing icesheets and polar bears perched on lonely icebergs. More and more, playwrights, directors and artists talk about approaching this subject through ideas of resilience, survival, adaptation and improvisation. They want to move audiences through stories of hope, endurance and resourcefulness. And that takes us back to the beginnings of narrative art, to Homer and his hero, Odysseus the Cunning.

One thought on “Green art – from collapse to resilience?”

  1. Good things first –

    The comment about the Earthquake in Lisbon, that made Voltaire comment in Candide, about how could it be a case of God watching over the best of all possible worlds, reminds me of Gandhiji’s comment about the 1934 Bihar earthquake, which lead to a couple of exchanges between him and Tagore.

    Gandhiji had said that he saw it as a case of divine revenge for Bihar practising untouchability, and Tagore was deeply upset, as he saw this as a backward and near-superstitious attitude.

    Nasty things –

    Sorry for the long mail, I know nothing about this person, but I notice that it is a farewell article, it is the last of his writings for that series, so I probably shouldn’t be too harsh in my judgement, but I found it to be rambling and talking about too many different things.

    By saying every major scientific moment being cultural as well, what is he saying..?

    Every significant idea, technology and intellectual activity that has seen the light of day, has affected the science, art, literature and culture it is enmeshed with. By saying it the way that he has in this and the other examples, it appears as if he is introducing a sequential, or a causal chain, making judgements about what is more or less influential.

    He seems to think that newer intuitions in science and technology lead to corresponding innovations in the arts; and thereby in culture. I think this is both a poor evaluation of the way the human world is, and an erroneous account of the way things are linked.

    Only a simultaneous progress in the socio-cultural, philosophical, literary and scientific-technological stances and attitudes can lead to any significant far-reaching changes. To use his own examples, the renaissance and reformation weren’t merely about heliocentrism or learning to print books. It was about being critical and analytical of dogmas in every single aspect of life and thought.

    To think that the either a scientific discovery or a technological innovation alone can herald a social or intellectual upheaval, is simply wrong. Reminds me of Mulk Raj naad’s novel ‘Untouchable’ which starts off as a sensitive piece of writing, but ends up edifying the septic tank and plumbing as the saviour that will lead to the emancipation of the harijans.

    The theory of relativity or origin of species did not emerge out of cultural vacuums or wastelands, they were as much products of their preceding culture, as much as they influenced culture and science that came later.

    I disagree with ”If everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little.” insofar as it isn’t about the result in the case of everybody, but about cultivating an attitude of concern and conservation.

    Of course, large scale legislative and administrative regulation will work, but what is most effective is when people internalise the truths of these crises. That internalisation is not about any great understanding of the scientific nitty-gritty as he says here –

    ”Going green is more about absorbing the scientific consensus that has emerged over the last 50 years: resources are finite, the planet is fragile, our activities are having a dangerous impact on the atmosphere. To take this on board is to change the way you see the world. Even people who resent the sanctimonious tendencies of the greens can see that a great cultural shift has taken place.

    Same grouse as before.

    I may be misreading him, but this is the impression I got, and these are my comments.

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