Climate change is threatening planet Earth and an alarming rate every single year. With harsher climate and more unpredictable weather patterns, it is clear that something is going on with the weather cycles on our planet, but what does this have to do with art? Or even if it were related to art, what could artists even do about it? Well, I think that climate change is a perfect example of how the arts can influence and win over popular opinion around a topic and change the nature of the debate—and a few artists are out to do just that.
Recently an artist by that name of Paula Winokur was on a trip to Alaska where she was viewing glaciers, presumably getting inspiration for her next masterpiece. As she was on the boat viewing this mammoth piece of frozen water, the entire front section of it broke off, falling to the surface with a loud shattering noise that reverberated for miles. This experienced made her realize that something needs to be done to preserve these glaciers that are essential habitats for hundreds of animal species, and she saw her art as a medium that she could raise awareness.
Now Paula creates porcelain forms that depict icebergs and glaciers falling around polar bears that are simply trying to live in their own habitat. The pieces are quite moving and you are able to get a sense of fear from looking at the polar bear as they look out at the world around them and quite literally are seeing it crumble beneath them, drifting slowly away.
This is a perfectly relevant and contemporary way that art can contribute to popular culture and mainstream opinion and thought. You see, art can contribute something to the debate that science cannot: emotions. Art is a visual, a stimulant, some that requires an interpretation by the individual that is specific to his or her own person and experience. Science is data, math, charts, and graphs. This is very linear for most people and creates incredible difficulties when trying to elicit emotional responses from people. This isn’t an attempt to “knock” science. Science described to us how the world is, not how it “ought” to be, and that is the fundamental difference. Art has the capability to tell us how the world ought to be by painting pictures (pardon the pun) of how we all would like to see the world. Some people may call these people optimists. Others may call them artists. But either way, their effect is something that cannot be denied. Once artist begin to depict the emotion behind the science of climate change, we can expect a very different set of outcomes in popular opinion.
Hopefully Winokur takes more trips to Alaska to gain inspiration for future sculptures and pieces of art. It would be amazing for her next project to recreate a full scale glacier with a polar bear near or around the falling part. This would captivate people all over the world and unite the climate change community.