Art and the Environment

ImageI spent much of my time in Jamaica asking other people how they define the environment and what it means (or doesn’t mean) to them. Nearly every person I asked struggled to articulate an adequate definition of nature. Many thought of the features of the landscape around them. Others though of nature more broadly as a place without people. For me, nature is all these things, but it is also more. My friend who is a computer science major made an interesting point last year that helped me form my attitude of the environment. He said, “Who’s to say computers don’t have consciousness or aren’t living? They’re made up of the same things we are.” At the time it seemed ridiculous, but now I think his statement has a lot of truth to it. Although great human thinkers have spent a considerable time and effort defining characteristics that separate people from the environment, it is a hopeless cause. As much as our basis of knowledge presupposes that we are above and separate from nature, we are very much a part of it and maybe, like my friend suggested, our machines are too. 

This means that we should treat the earth as our equal. I do this in my life by taking time to go outside every day and look at the environment around me. In Beloit, for instance, this includes the sqirrels, the red brick buildings on campus, the dying grass, the pace of the river on any given day, or the faces of people who walk by me. I try to look at the world with empathy and humility because that’s how I would like it to look back on me. I realize that not every human (or maybe not every squirrel!) does this. This is probably because many days are clouded with concerns about our immediate comfort. Our innate connection to nature is easily buried. I notice this in myself too. There are some days when all I care about is finishing my paper and taking a long hot shower. This is where art comes in. Creative expression can burst this bubble of self-centeredness that we so easily fall into and can be another reminder that we are not alone. Art tells stories and when people hear stories they can imagine a reality different from their own. Novels, poetry, songs, paintings, plays, and dance remind us that there is so much for us to care for and so much in this world that is ready to love us back.

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