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Feeling Conflicted

Is making art in conflict with a sustainable life?

I want to address the elephant in the room. Why do so many of us feel conflicted when it comes to talking about sustainability? Why does it induce feelings of guilt, depression and hopelessness? How does this fit into our lives as artists- where we are creating and making and (dare I say it) consuming and using up materials?

I started making art as a response to negative feelings of anxiety and depression. Not the feeling sad kind of depression, but the 'not-feeling-anything-at-all-and-struggling-to-breathe' kind of depression. It began with crochet. It was therapeutic to make something beautiful with my own hands. It induced a state of flow which was a balm for my frazzled mind. It gave me something to share with others. And putting myself into a creative mind state helped me feel expansive, optimistic and hopeful. 

The spirit of sustainability often appears to be in contrast to this- it can feel like you're being told 'no'. Like you're being reprimanded for doing something wrong. It's devastating to learn about the terrible things that are happening to our planet, especially when you're told "YOU have done this". It feels constrictive, pessimistic and depressing. 

As you may expect of someone who has suffered from major depression, I also have chronic low self esteem. I feel that I am inherently unworthy and unloveable.  I'm overcoming this little by little- and starting painting on large canvases has been one way for me to tackle these feelings of inadequacy. In my darkest moments, I believe that I don't deserve to take up space in the world. I believe that I am too big (that's another story!), too loud, too opinionated. So I desperately try to shrink myself in any way possible. Painting big brush strokes on a large canvas has given me permission to take up space- lots of it! 

So deciding whether art is sustainable feels very loaded to me. It taps into those feelings of self worth and permission to be myself out loud. 

On the other hand, I am keenly aware of my privilege as a white middle class person living in one of the wealthiest countries on earth. And of the little I understand about the ecological crisis, the message is clear that it is the developed wealthy countries that are the biggest polluters. 

People have commented on my previous posts on this topic asking whether I can make art about sustainability, or use my art to convey a message about the troubles of the world. Unfortunately, although I am concerned by those issues, I don't feel like making art about it at the moment. I want to make abstract, colourful, uplifting art that conveys feelings of euphoria. I currently feel quite split. I have literally split The Sustainable Artist from my personal art Instagram account. 

Can sustainability be coded colourful, uplifting and joyous rather than khaki, plain and dreary? Is it spoilt rich person privilege to want to create art in the face of ecological crisis? Can concern for the environment be expansive and hopeful?  

Do you have any thoughts on this question that I am so desperately grappling with? Come and find me on Instagram @thesustainableartist or send me an email. I'd love to hear from you.

(originally published on 12th October 2018)

Rose WildsmithComment