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How to reframe film, tv, art and music - Environmental Thinking Institute

A discussion held by the Environmental Thinking Institute ETI, led by Atul Kumar. Talking about the ways in which the creative industries can impact the environment, how we can inspire action through art and music, and the ways that larger groups, companies and institutions can change for the better.



I was delighted to be invited to join a panel of creatives to discuss the environment and how the creative industries can have both positive and negative impact. The discussion focused around the next steps of what can be done to change peoples perception on environmental issues and how we can have a positive impact to create compassion in others on a wider scale.


Each speaker had a few minutes to discuss the matter from their creative perspective and it was amazing to hear from others in areas I am not as familiar. For example, the discussions around film and music pointed out the negative impact our consumption of data can have on the environment due to the large amount of energy required to constantly download and stream the data. On the flip side however, there are organisations that aim to bring into place legislation to reduce the carbon footprint of film making and TV production on a wider scale, starting from the UK soap opera 'Eastenders'. "Albert is an environmental organisation aiming to encourage the TV and film production industry to reduce waste and its carbon footprint. Additionally, Albert offers guidance on how to promoted discuss environmental issues in editorial content through an initiative called 'Planet Placement'."


Along with the film and TV industry, it was amazing to hear performances of environmentally inspired music. With lyrics focused around inspiring action and having the power to make a change. As well as a more reflective song about standing up against the social norms, to break away from the impact our social or societal behaviours and attitudes can have on the environment.


I focused my talk around the impact art can have and the difference it can make when an individual animal, story or issues is address through art. It has also been amazing to see how other artists, with both a shared passion for wildlife but a completely varied approach to their art style, can make a big impact when joining together for a project or campaign. It has become quite a large part of so many wildlife charities to incorporate art into their fundraising events as it helps supporters to connect to the issue and wildlife so much easier, as well as there being a physical transaction for their support through donated art or other gifts/experiences.

As I am such a chatterbox that I quickly ran out of time in the session, however there was so much more I could have shared. Below I have included my notes from the discussion, including some I was unable to fit in. It was really interesting to look at how art can make a difference for the environment and focussing on the next steps was a great reminder of how it can be reframed to make a positive impact on people's engagement with environmental issues and inspire them to help make a change.



NOTES:

I’ve worked in the creative industry in various capacities for the last fourteen years and in the last 5 have really concentrated my focus on using my platform to bring attention to wild species and the issues facing them and their environment. Creating a nice piece of art is usually my first intention, as people love to decorate their homes with aesthetically pleasing artwork…however there is almost always a hidden message or purpose to the piece. Even if that is to simply raise awareness of the species itself or funds to directly support the efforts carried out to protect them. 


Over the last few years I have been directly involved in supporting wildlife charities and have donated a portion of sales from my artwork to conservation efforts. This desire to help and support wildlife and the environment definitely extends into my brand identity and so I try to weave it into my content, marketing and presentation as much as possible. 


With that being said, it can sometimes be difficult to help people see more than just the pretty image and tap into the message or issue being addressed. I’ve learned that people often relate more and are willing to help when it is easier for them to connect to the animal or issue. The ways in which I have tried to do this, is by allowing people to follow a story or getting to know a particular individual. For example, I have painted a cheetah covered in snow (below). This may just seem like a pretty portrait with a slightly different context, however the story behind the piece involves a female cheetah called Mona. 



Photographer Kirsten Frost documented the rare occurrence of African cheetahs in the snow, capturing images of a female named Mona and two males in the cold temperatures of Sutherland, South Africa. Vincent van der Merwe of the Endangered Wildlife Trust expressed that reintroducing cheetahs to their native range is crucial for their conservation, as the species is vulnerable to extinction with around only 7,000 left in the wild. Cheetahs in the Karoo region of South Africa experience regular snowfall in temperatures as low as -15°C. By reintroducing cheetahs to their native range in private game reserves, conservation efforts aim to protect the vulnerable species and raise awareness of their adaptability beyond the East African savanna. “We tend to put them into categories,” such as assuming cheetahs are unique to the East African savanna, “these animals are a lot more adaptable than you think.” 


Telling the story of Mona, allows the viewer to see more than just the image and connect to the individual. In this case a relocated cheetah by the name of Mona. This piece has been created for a wildlife charity (Wildlife act through the Invicta wildlife fund) supporting the monitoring and collaring of the relocated cheetah, so 50% of sales go directly to cheetah just like Mona. 


What makes the difference between art just being a picture and art that has a message and inspires action.

  • Bringing a piece to life - for me this is in the realism and anatomical correctness of a species. Although as art is always subjective, a piece can be brought to life in many other way than just resembling the species accurately.

  • Connection - this is often easier when there is eye contact as the eyes are such a easy way to connect with someone, whether it be a human or an animal 

  • Acknowledging the animals identity eg giving it a name or telling its story, just like Mona

  • Put it on the agenda - Art is a luxury and doesn’t always make the front page, however like with most thing a common interest and strength in numbers goes a long way. With art it can often require many artists to join together as art is so subjective, you need multiple styles to reach a wider audience and connect with each audience in their preferred style. 

  • Connecting people through art that evokes emotion, be it through eye contact, animal interaction or behaviour eg a parent and their young. A relationship almost every human has known. Making it relatable and easier to engage with.

  • Telling a story - visual art is a helpful tool in story telling either by accompanying text with an illustration or telling a story through the image. So often we find it easier to understand through an image and of course, visual art crosses through any language barriers. 


Despite all of the progress… how do we take it to the next level to make a larger impact. People don't like to feel guilty of doing something wrong or being directly involved in the issues facing the wildlife and environment…so they often turn away and ignore the problems entirely.If the problems are shoved in their faces, people will find it too uncomfortable to engage with, overwhelmed by the scale of the issue. And even if they are inspired to take action, the small impact their choices or voice will have can be discouraging. We find any way possible to distance ourselves from the issues and any involvement we may have, even if it is incredibly small. 


A recent example of how action can be inspired through connection and relatability is the post office documentary (mentioned by Atul previously in the discussion) that captured real stories in a way that new reports and articles could not. The drama allowed people to connect with the individuals with empathy and compassion by relating to people affected by the errors. Stirring up action that resulted in a positive outcome for those who had suffered for so long. 


It seems the most effective way to engage an audience is through empathy and art can definitely be used to create a connection between us and the problem, even if it is an issue facing wildlife or an ecosystem on the opposite side of the world.


Wildlife art can often be left behind as there has been a higher fascination with human portraiture, landscapes and abstract or impressionistic styles. Getting wildlife art that has a message into galleries can be somewhat challenging due to the stigma attached to the wildlife art genre. Thankfully social media allows everyone to tell their story and share their work, so it has become a great place to find and collaborate with other wildlife artists to raise awareness of environmental issues through art.


Creating a bigger impact through working together.

I've been a part of many online and in person wildlfie art exhibitions which have directly supported wildlife conservation. It is something that we (as wildlife artists) can all do together as part of our creative process, even if it is simply raising awareness of the wild species feature in our work and any issues they may face. 


So in conclusion, the key components to creating artwork that takes others to the next step is definitely to focus on connection, empathy, relatability and compassion. Along with working with other artists to increase the audience. Creating artwork or collections that have a story telling element and pull on those key components, can make an impact that goes far beyond the canvas or paper.



The ETI - There are many other discussions coming up in the ETI that cover topics including 'Not in the News', "Non-Environmental Thinking" and "Understanding Successful Prevention". You can find out more through Atul's here www.atulsearth.co.uk/institute


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