Contemporary environmental art

Authored by: James Nisbet

The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138786745
eBook ISBN: 9781315766355
Adobe ISBN: 9781317660194


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Since the end of World War II, visual art has undergone a series of major transitions in the way that it addresses issues of the environment. Prior to this paradigm shift, artwork dating back to the Renaissance had contended with the environment principally through the genre of landscape painting. Whether Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings of village life and labor, Nicolas Poussin’s idealizations of mythical terrains, or John Constable’s studies of rain and wind in the craggy English countryside, centuries of landscape painting consistently construed the domain of the visual arts as one of picturing environmental conditions. Beginning with the rise of new approaches to artistic production in the 1950s, however, the fundamental role of visual art transformed from that of showing environmental conditions to participating more directly in them. This is to say that while the academic discipline of art history has adopted more expressly ecocritical concerns during the early twenty-first century (Baum; Boetzkes; Brattock and Ater; Brattock and Irmsher; Cheetham; Demos; Lippard; Nisbet; Scott and Swenson), the practice of art itself has a longer history of shaping key questions for the environmental humanities. The following chapter will address these developments over the last half-century through three important artists and artistic partnerships, beginning with the work of Robert Rauschenberg.

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