Updated: May 4, 2021
You Can't Spell Earth without Art
Earth Day is recognized annually on April 22 around the planet. This year mark the 51st Earth Day since its founding 1970. The advent of Earth Day also marked the beginnings of public awareness of the costs of environmental degradation.
In the decades prior, Americans were largely unaware of the link between pollution and poor public health and the health of the planet. In 1962, marine biologists Rachel Carson's best-selling book, Silent Spring brought attention to environmental issues. In 1970, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, founded the first Earth Day. Since he was first elected to the Senate in 1962, Nelson was determined to convince the federal government that the planet—and future generations—needed us to change our destructive ways.
On the first Earth Day, there were rallies were held in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other American cities. In Washington, D.C., thousands of people listened to singer Pete Seeger and others. In Philly, the Native American band Redbone performed for a crowd of 40,00 to 60,000 at Fairmount Park. Other held midnight "sing-ins, at one such event folk singer Tom Paxton debuted his song, "Whose Garden Was This." The song was recorded later that year by singer John Denver.
Artists have always used the arts to reflect their love of nature and its impact on their lives. For example, Ludwig van Beethoven was often inspired to compose from his walks in the Austrian countryside. His Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, also known as the "Pastoral Symphony", is a love song to nature. He composed in such a way that the orchestration reminds listeners the sounds that they would hear on a simple country day—the music gives the impression of rain, thunder, and bird calls. Another example, Antonio Vivaldi's (March 4, 1678 – July 28, 1741) Four Seasons, provides listeners with nature sounds including barking dogs, birds, and a babbling brook. The sounds are meant to tell the story of a changing seasons throughout a year and is based sonnets by the composer himself. For example, the text of spring begins:
Festive Spring has arrived,
The birds salute it with their happy song.
And the brooks, caressed by little Zephyrs,
Flow with a sweet murmur.
The sky is covered with a black mantle,
And thunder, and lightning, announce a storm.
When they are silent, the birds
Return to sing their lovely song.
The Earth has inspired not only musicians and poets, but visual artists have also found inspiration in then beauty and power of the Earth. Of course, there are landscape painters and artists who record animals, planets, and rock samples for science. There are also artists who create stunning art out of the environment itself. Land art, Earth art, or earthworks was part of the wider conceptual art movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Conceptual art is art where the idea or concept behind the work is more important than the finished work of art.
The most famous example of land art work is Spiral Jetty (1970) by Robert Smithson (Jan. 2, 1938 – July 20, 1973). Smithson built out into the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah. Spiral Jetty by moving 6,500 tons of basalt rocks, earth and salt to form the shape of a spiral out into the lake. Smithson used mechanical earth-moving equipment to make his art, artists, such as Richard Long (b. June 2, 1945), make minimal and temporary interventions in the landscape.
Long typically shows his works by displaying the materials or photograph documentation of his performances and experiences. he finds his inspiration by documenting his nature walks. Beginning in the mid-1960s, he has taken countless walks around the world, in distant locations such as the Sahara Desert, Australia, Iceland, as well as near his home in Bristol, U.K. From these walks come the ideas and materials for his work. Long’s sculptures are often geometric shapes—circles, lines, ellipses, and spirals that are composed of rocks and minerals that he finds along his way. Other notable land artists include Nancy Holt (April 5, 1938 – February 8, 2014), Walter De Maria (October 1, 1935 – July 25, 2013), and Ana Mendieta (November 18, 1948 – September 8, 1985).
1. Take a Nature Walk
The simplest way we can honor Earth Day through art is by taking a nature walk. We don't have to travel long distances, we can take a nature walk in our own backyard—literally or figuratively. Take a camera or your phone if you would like to document your walk. If you live in an urban area, you may wish to find a safe spot where you can look up and notice the color of the sky or the shapes of clouds as well as the birds ahead. If you live near a waterway, you may wish to gather river stones or take an audio (or video) recorder or your smart phone and record the sounds you hear and the wildlife you see.
2. Create a Rock Balancing Sculpture
The images above show an unknown artist or artists amazing rock balancing art on Zuma Beach, Malibu, CA, Feb. 2016.
A temporary but impressive form of land art is rock balancing. Rock balancing is naturally balanced rocks on top of one another in various positions without the use of adhesives, wires, supports, rings, or any other contraptions that maintain the sculptures balance. Rock balancing artist Michael Grab explains:
"The most fundamental element of balancing in a physical sense is finding some kind of 'tripod' for the rock to stand on. Every rock is covered in a variety of tiny to large indentations that can act as a tripod for the rock to stand upright, or in most orientations you can think of with other rocks. By paying close attention to the feeling of the rocks, you will start to feel even the smallest clicks as the notches of the rocks in contact are moving over one another."
3. Paint with Sand
Sandpainting is a temporary art form that is present in art traditions around the world. Cultures that include sandpainting, include the Native Americans (especially the Navajo [the Diné]), the indigenous Australians, Tibetans, Japanese, Indians, Latin Americans, and Europeans. Sometimes colored sands are used for form patterns and pictures. Other times, artists create sanddrawings by creating lines in the sand. In unfixed works, the work is erased or swept away once it is completed. Like other temporary land art styles, the art form exists for the process of creating the image rather than the finished picture itself.
4. Build A Mandala Out of Flowers
The images above show flower mandala building at the SoulSeed Gathering at the Yoga Forest Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, Feb. 2017.
A mandala is a form of Eastern art form that dates back to the first century. A mandala is geometric arrangement of shapes and of symbols. The Tibetan sandpainting above is a Buddhist mandala design. A flower mandala is a repeating pattern design created by using flowers. It is another temporary form of earth-based art as the cut flowers will wither and dry. Some people select the types of flowers they use to create the image because the flowers have a particular meaning to them, while others select flowers due to their colors. Creating a flower mandala is an excellent art practice to connect with nature on your own or with friends.
5. Weave a Web of Sound: Creates a Nature Sound Collage
You may wish to create a sound collage incorporating geophony and biophony. A sound collage is a piece of organized sound that is constructed out of samples of sounds. Geophony refers to non-biological sounds of nature, such as wind, rain, or a babbling brook. While biophony refers to the sounds from non-human life, such as the distant howl of a dog, tweeting birds, or the buzz of insects. You may want to accompany your nature sounds with instruments or voices. Or, you may choose to use non-musical sounds only. Below is an example of a sound collage I worked on back in 2018 that incorporates some biophony and geophony along with instruments.
If you don't create your own sound collage, you can always pay close attention to the sounds of nature you hear around you throughout the day. Be mindful and listen to the way that sounds interact with one another in the environment. Listen to them in the present moment and observe.
You may also want to listen and watch Bernie Krause (b. Dec. 8, 1938) and Jonathan Skinner's presentation of The Great Animal Orchestra: A Performance and Dialogue in Soundscape and Poetry. Krause is the one who coined the term "biophony," and in 1968, he founded Wild Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to the recording and archiving of natural soundscapes.
However, you chose to celebrate the Earth this Earth Day, I encourage your to be mindful and consider your place as an artist and a human being on this planet. Our actions or non-actions affect the greater world around us. Earth Day is the perfect time to re-evaluate and plan for the future. The Earth of tomorrow is the direct result of the Earth of today. Let's all do our parts to create a bright future for all life on this planet.
Cohan, James. Richard Long Biography. https://www.jamescohan.com/artists/richard-long (Accessed 20 April 2021).
Earth Day. https://www.earthday.org (Accessed 20 April 2021).
Holt-Smithson Foundation. https://holtsmithsonfoundation.org (Accessed 20 April 2021).
Laurent, Anna. The Zen of Rock Balancing. Garden Design Magazine. https://www.gardendesign.com/art/rock-cairn-sculptures.html (Accessed 20 April 2021).
Land Artists. https://magazine.artland.com/top-10-land-art-and-earthwork-pioneers/ (Accessed 20 April 2021).
Krause, Bernie. Global Oneness Project.. https://www.globalonenessproject.org/people/bernie-krause (Accessed 20 April 2021).
Krause, Bernie. Wild Sanctuary. https://www.wildsanctuary.com (Accessed 20 April 2021).
Mandalas for the Soul. What Is A Flower Mandala? https://www.mandalasforthesoul.com/mandala-flower-meaning/ (Accessed 20 April 2021).
Skinner, Jonathan. Ecopoetics. https://ecopoetics.wordpress.com (Accessed 20 April 2021).
Tate Modern. Land Art. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/l/land-art (Accessed 20 April 2021).
Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound artist, and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is the founder of Perennial Music and Arts and is passionate about sharing her love of music and arts.