Why art and climate change?

Why a PhD project on art imagining human-nature relations?

Studying the representation of climate change/justice/crisis and related environmental/social themes through the lens of the Environmental Humanities and by looking specifically at visual art has numerous reasons.


The visual arts have the potential to…

  • Visualize abstract themes
  • Be unusual, novel, unbound by existing conventions or (perhaps ineffective) narratives
  • Create personal experiences turning a temporally and spatially remote topic into a directly felt experience by use of imaginative practices
  • Create emotional, aesthetic experiences
  • Offer reflective, contemplative experiences while other artworks convey explicit messages for action

Yet, the arts might also encounter certain challenges/limits when addressing environmental topics:

  • Artwork could not be understood → bound by cultural norms?
  • ‘High culture’ artworks might only reach a certain audience?
  • Are artist who do not lead by example listened to?
  • Art can also employ reductionist thinking, showing the same future scenario again and again
  • Negative tone can lead to helplessness
  • Didactic artworks might be rejected by the art world
  • Artworks might not create impact .. what is impactful?
  • Climate change is not solved single-handedly …what collaborations are needed?

The Environmental Humanities...

  • Offer high conceptual sensitivity
  • Acknowledge climate change as a human challenge
  • Use collaborative modes of inquiry

This PhD project received funding from the PhD in the Humanities programme of NWO, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

Project number: PGW.19.010/8366

Co-promoters: dr. P.P.L. Berkers (Erasmus University Rotterdam) / Prof.dr. K. Kwastek (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Promoter: Prof. dr. F.R.R. Vermeylen (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

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