International Journal of Art & Design Education

An Artist's Anthropological Approach to Sustainability

Volume 35.3   2016



Recent studies of sustainability draw attention to the impact art and culture have on communities. The Earth Charter, which originated in 1968, fostered the idea of ‘a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace’. This article supports the idea that art can make a difference to society and examines four case studies which explore the infra-ordinary within the immensity of social, political, historical and physical non-art places. The stance adopted is that of an artist, anthropologist and storyteller casting light onto a cultural landscape that is so ordinary as to be not noticed at all. Whilst the methodology is slow and often undramatic, this meticulous approach is essential in that it allows the artist to develop a respect for both people and place or, as explained by Kuspit : ‘to recover a sense of human purpose in art making, engaging with the realities of life as it is actually lived’. Whereas All in the Mind was an investigation into the internal and external conflicts and structures within mental institutions and their impact on individual patients’ lives, High Riser questioned central government's approach to housing asylum seekers in Sighthill flats in Glasgow which depersonalised the individuals involved. Sojourn and Inland Waters illuminated the social demographics of a working shipyard environment. Making Visible the Invisible explores the role as a lead artist, involved in the planning stages of an urban development project, as a creative thinker rather than object maker.