What is the purpose of art? We might put a potentially wise response to that question this way: Art has the same purpose all other activity has, namely to further the conditions of life, or to cultivate the whole of life onward. This cultivation of life is a “mental” process, and thus the world has always evolved on the basis of creativity, imagination, and poetic thinking. If an artist does not reflect carefully on this most basic purpose of art, and try to attune themselves to it, they will (almost inevitably, even if inadvertently) degrade the conditions of life, and conspire in the breakdown of ecologies near and far. We see just this kind of situation today. Artists cannot remain coherent, and thus art itself cannot remain coherent, without attunement to this basic purpose.

Nikos Patedakis, philosopher, wisdomloveandbeauty.org, 2020 [1]

How much has changed collectively across the world in the last few weeks with our attention drawn to the shock and suffering caused by the perilous pandemic.

Back a few weeks, I was so delighted to see The Hollywood Forest Story and all involved in this work being written about so well by Paddy Woodworth, writer, journalist, and former art editor of The Irish Times (you can read it here [2]). But with these strange, shocking weeks (and been in the throes of offering my first pilot 6-week online ecoliteracy course for creatives and art educators) its been too overwhelming to share the article on this blog until now.

Paddy Woodworth visited Hollywood Forest, South County Carlow Ireland, in February (Winter), 2020

And I wish to acknowledge how Paddy took such care in reflecting on The Hollywood Forest Story both in appreciating our learner efforts in ecological forestry and how he took on writing about a decade’s long ecological art practice – which is no easy task!

I knew that when Paddy asked to come visit Hollywood forest that this small wood was not as vibrant as it once was–it is suffering from increasing and intersecting environmental stresses: ever-warming winters in Ireland have meant our Sitka spruce conifers have suffered significant aphid attacks since 2015–its shocking to see how some of the 35-year-old trees have died from conifer aphids and how the ones left are not growing as they once did. When we began transforming our conifer plantation in 2008, we also imagined how our future forest would be predominantly composed of Ash trees amongst our conifers. But, in the last 5 years our regenerating Ash saplings have almost totally succumbed to the fatal Ash-dieback fungus that has spread so quickly across Europe from the unwise economic priorities of globalised tree nursery activity. And now more frequent extreme wind events cause some of the larger tall conifer trees to rock back and forth, so that their very roots are dislodged. No tree likes this type of movement so they will not last long.

So, to some it might seem that Hollywood forest, as an example of continuous cover forestry is not achieving much. But in spite of these challenges, because there are other tree species that vary in age, Hollywood forest, while struggling like many forests across the world – will always be more ecologically resilient than a monoculture plantation. Thank you Paddy for seeing this story in a small wood on a cold grey winter’s day.

I also knew what Paddy would face in explaining an ecological art practice, that involves ongoing collaboration and evolving conversation, art and non-art forest practices over many years as in The Hollywood Forest Story. Such expanded eco-social art practices are hard to write about and present simply as a creative practice (I know this first-hand with the struggles I had in writing about ‘eco-social art practice’–my term for ecological art practice–in my doctoral thesis).

But, that is as it should be. Ushering in an ecological paradigm will be hard work to disentangle ourselves from all the dualistic, human-centric thinking that has held sway since the dawn of the dominant culture. At present, try as we might and in almost everything we do, we find the dominant culture alienates us from-the-wider-community-of-life. This absence of thinking, as Hannah Arendt realised [3], is the the underlying cause of the accelerating atrocities and suffering of the Anthropocene.

Developing an alternative ecological consciousness, an ‘ecology of mind’ will be extraordinarily difficult as polymath Gregory Bateson recognised [4]. However, an ecological mind will be a fundamental requirement if we are to to live well [5] within and with Earth’s ecologies going forward. This is perhaps a near impossible shift for modern society (and the arts as we currently think of them), that have long absorbed the ecocidal stories of ‘conquest consciousness'[6] and competitive individualism [7] as the true drivers of the dominant culture’s story of evolution, progress and success.

For us living here within Hollywood forest, learning, listening, and watching out for Hollywood forest’s future thriving by adopting holistic, integrated continuous cover forestry practices–that supports our thriving too–are small steps toward practising an ecology of mind that will be a life’s work–a practical philosophy that results in a little more wisdom, increasing love for the living world and more beauty and birdsong each year. Such forest practice-in-this-time-and-place considers a totality of environmental, social, and economic wellbeing, in perpetuity. It means re-examining everything and learning about the ecologies we live with, in detail (this is why eco-social art practices are ‘slow art’ residences, such slow stories of place!)

Likewise, as more in the creative sector acknowledge how current art career activity in the Anthropocene largely alienates them from the suffering of the living world, priorities for cultural activity and creative practice will change (this is something I have argued about in art and sustainability studies I’ve presented and sent to relevant government departments in recent years). For example, increasing ecological sensitivity and solastalgia (grief for the insanity of the dominant culture to destroy the life-support systems of Earth) [8] will surely mean it will become more meaningful to develop ecologies of creative practice with others, in one’s home place over time. Still under-recognised, art critic Suzi Gablik prescient writings many decades ago recognised that an ‘ecological imperative’ for the arts would mean a complete overhaul of what we think a career in the arts might be [9]. But, this change of priorities seems likely to be subsumed here in Ireland, with the paltry support to the Irish culture sector amidst the COVID-19 pandemic [10].

To further encourage Gablik’s ‘ecological imperative’ as a priority for creatives—who have social power to help us envision a life-sustaining ecological age—what philosopher Glenn Albrecht has termed as the Symbiocene [11], will require a radical shift in cultural policy to deeply recognise the huge cultural shift and awareness of what living well with the Earth will mean. At present, siloed Anthropocenic thinking sees ‘climate change'[12], or ‘biodiversity loss’ as new themes or topics for new creative work and exhibitions and limits broader creative response. The exponential ‘Great Acceleration’ of systemic symptoms: wildlife collapse and habitat destruction (acknowledged as causal factors in the rise of COVID-19 pandemic [13, 14]), the breakdown of climate and shifting seasons, the disruption of life-giving soils, the suffering of so many sentient beings from industrial farming, aquaculture and gross pollution, demands that we regenerate the dominant culture entirely!

Correspondingly for the arts, more recognition and long term support, and new ecoliteracy (ecological knowledge) curricula in particular, will help more socially-inclined creatives facilitate mutually expansive and inclusive, co-creative, co-authored, humble and humbling activities in and with our communities. Supported and eco-informed creative activity has social power to reorient society’s priorities to safeguard diverse ecologies as a basis of collective wellbeing. As more Earth-aligned Indigenous cultures remind us [15], creativity’s critical role for society is not to increase tourism, national prestige nor is it just for self development. We need, as philosopher Nikos Patedakis argues, ‘a genuinely evolutionary and revolutionary shift out of our current self-help catastrophe and into an Earth-helping celebration, a mutual dance of wisdom, love, and beauty that manifests as all that we are.'[16] International cultural policy has already confirmed creatives can help highlight, translate and continually remind us all of the delights and value of Earth’s life-sustaining ecologies everywhere [17]. To live well with the Earth and all its inhabitants–we must embrace the wisdom that expansive creativity for Earth care means–that all are cared for.

PS when I came to post Paddy’s article today, I found that the article had been re-shared on the Aotearoa New Zealand Edge website. I was thrilled again because the photo the Irish Times selected to accompany Paddy’s article was me in Te Urerewa forest back in NZ (where I was born). Te Urerewa is super special–a near pristine forest, and it is one of the few forests in the world to have been granted legal rights which is inspiring (NZ has also granted its largest river legal rights too). Such forests continue to inspire me for living differently, for living well with the wider community of life.

1 Patedakis, Nikos (2020), personal communication [email]. 1 April 2020. www.wisdomloveandbeauty.org

2 Woodworth, Paddy (2020) ‘Art at the Frontline of the Environmental Crisis’. The Irish Times, 7 March (digital edition), 14 March (print edition).

3 Fitzgerald, Cathy (2013) ‘The absence of thinking – Hannah Arendt and the totalitarianism of ecocide‘ [blog post], September 21.

4 Bateson, Gregory (1972) Steps Toward an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University of Chicago Press.

5 Fitzgerald, Cathy (2018) Living Well with Forests: A Guiding Guattari ecosophy-action research framework to explain eco-social art practice. [PhD Thesis] National College of Art and Design, Ireland.

6 Sorenson, Richard E. (1998) ‘Preconquest Consciousness.’ In: Tribal Epistemologies: Essays in the Philosophy of Anthropology. Helmut Wautischer, ed. Routledge.

7 Thunder, David (2020) ‘Coronavirus may shake us out of our individualist slumber – Pandemic holds out a rare opportunity for moral growth and learning‘. The Irish Times, April 15.

8 Muller, Pete (2020). ‘As climate change alters beloved landscapes, we feel the loss: The environment’s chaotic transformation is damaging many of our favorite places—and causing a shared ‘homesickness’’ [Glenn Albrecht’s solastalgia]. The National Geographic. 50th Earth Day Edition. April.

9 Gablik, Suzi (1993) ‘The ecological imperative: Making art as if the world mattered’. Michigan quarterly review 32:231

10 Dervan, Michael (2020) ‘Arts Council’s €1m Covid-19 package amounts to a pittance for [Irish] artists: you have to wonder what the Government’s cultural mandarins are actually thinking.’ The Irish Times, April 15.

11 Albrecht, Glenn (2019) Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World. Cornell University Press.

12 m.co (2019) The Creative Ireland Programme ‘Engaging the Public on Climate Change through the Culture and Creative Sectors‘ [pdf]. Research Report.

13 Einhorn, Catrin (2020) ‘Animal Viruses Are Jumping to Humans. Forest Loss Makes It Easier.’ The New York Times. April 9.

14 UNEP (2020) ‘Coronavirus outbreak highlights need to address threats to ecosystems and wildlife.‘ March 3.

15 Anderson, Kat (2005) Tending the Wild. University of California Press.

16 Patedakis, Nikos (2020), personal communication [email]. 31 March 2020. www.wisdomloveandbeauty.org

17 (Fitzgerald, 2017; Creative Carlow Futures: Artand Sustainability for County Carlow and Ireland download here). See further studies here.

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