Gwen Swan Interiors

Interior Designer & General Contractor

Celebrating Nature + Promoting Positive Social Changes

Environmental art is a range of artistic practices encompassing both historical approaches to nature in art and more recent ecological and politically motivated types of works. Environmental art has evolved away from formal concerns, worked out with earth as a sculptural material, towards a deeper relationship to systems, processes, and phenomena in relation to social concerns. Integrated social and ecological approaches developed as an ethical, restorative stance emerged in the 1990s. Over the past ten years, environmental art has become a focal point of exhibitions around the world as the social and cultural aspects of climate change come to the forefront.

The term "environmental art" often encompasses "ecological" concerns but is not specific to them. It primarily celebrates an artist's connection with nature using natural materials. The concept is best understood in relation to historic earth/Land art and the evolving field of ecological art. The field is interdisciplinary in the fact that environmental artists embrace ideas from science and philosophy. The practice encompasses traditional media, new media, and critical social forms of production. The work embraces a full range of landscape/environmental conditions from the rural, to the suburban and urban as well as urban/rural industrial.

Ecological art is an art genre and artistic practice that seeks to preserve, remediate and/or vitalize the life forms, resources, and ecology of Earth, by applying the principles of ecosystems to living species and their habitats throughout the lithosphere, atmosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere, including wilderness, rural, suburban and urban locations. It is a distinct genre from Environmental art in that it involves functional ecological systems restoration, as well as socially engaged, activist, community-based interventions. Ecological art also addresses politics, culture, economics, ethics, and aesthetics as they impact the conditions of ecosystems. Ecological art practitioners include artists, scientists, philosophers, and activists who often collaborate on restoration, remediation, and public awareness projects.


The 2012 book, Toward Global (Environ)Mental Change - Transformative Art and Cultures of Sustainability, proposes that the global crisis of unsustainability is a disruption of the hardware of civilization, as well as a crisis of the software of the human mind. The 2004 book, Ecological aesthetics: art in environmental design: theory and practice, presents an analysis of a variety of tendencies and approaches to landscape architecture, science, and theory that inform research and the transformation of the landscape for over thirty years.


Artists considered to be working within this field subscribe to one or more of the following principles:

  • Focus on the web of interrelationships in our environment—on the physical, biological, cultural, political, and historical aspects of ecological systems.

  • Create works that employ natural materials or engage with environmental forces such as wind, water, or sunlight.

  • Reclaim, restore, and remediate damaged environments.

  • Inform the public about ecological dynamics and the environmental problems we face.

  • Revise ecological relationships, creatively proposing new possibilities for coexistence, sustainability, and healing.


Ecological art involves numerous diverse approaches, including:

  • Representational artwork: reveals information and conditions through image-making and object-making with the intention of stimulating dialogue.

  • Remediation projects: reclaim or restore polluted and disrupted environments – these artists often work with environmental scientists, landscape architects, and urban planners.

  • Activist and protest art: engage, inform, energize and activate the change of behaviors and/or public policy.

  • Social sculptures: are socially engaged, time-based artwork that involve communities in monitoring their landscapes, and take a participatory role in sustainable practices and lifestyles.

  • Ecopoetic art: initiate a re-envisioning of the natural world, inspiring co-existence with other species.

  • Direct encounter artworks: utilize natural phenomena such as water, weather, sunlight, plants, etc.

  • Didactic or pedagogical works: share information about environmental injustice and ecological problems such as water and soil pollution and health hazards through education.

  • Lived-and-relational aesthetics: involve sustainable, off-the-grid, permaculture existences.


Contemporary ecological art has been articulated across interdisciplinary and scholarly groups in terms of life-centered issues, community participation, public dialogue, and ecological sustainability. In 1996, the educator and activist, Don Krug identified concepts frequently addressed by ecological artists that can be used to interpret ecological perspectives and practices. The following four orientations were identified: Environmental Design, Ecological Design, Social Restoration, and Ecological Restoration.

  • Environmental Design/Sustainable design – Some artists work with nature as a resource for particular aesthetic endeavors. Artists with an orientation to environmental design are interested in achieving particular formal aesthetic effects. In the 1980s and 90s, artists, architects, designers, and civil engineers explored ways to link art, aesthetics, ecology, and culture.

  • Ecological design – Artists who work in the area of ecological design create art that is contingent on direct experiences and interactions with a particular place where the art is created. An ecological view of design considers the artwork within larger contexts of how people, plants, and animals are interconnected with each other, the site, and/or the earth.

  • Ecological restoration – Some artists attempt to alert viewers to environmental issues and problems through scientific exploration and educational documentation. They seek to restore fragile places and educate the public about the systemic character of bioregions through the use of communication, ritual, and performance. Some ecological artists engage people directly in activities or actions by confronting environmentally unhealthy practices with social, ethical, and moral ecological concerns.

  • Social restoration – An ecological ethic where humans live in relationship to larger communities of life to catalyze socially responsible artwork. Socio-ecological artists critically examine everyday life experiences. These artists scrutinize relations of power that produce community tensions about ecological issues.