Annotated Bibliography and Isms Map

Key questions

Framing question: How do artists engage in environmental activism? 

Descriptive: What worlds do environmental artists create?

Explanatory: Why do artists choose to create the worlds that they do?

Evaluative: Are these worlds important to create?

Instrumental: Is artist’s creation of worlds effective in affecting societal change?


My main topics are new materialism, symbolic action, and environmental art. All are quite ephemeral to varying degrees, so as I was collecting sources I took care to make sure that I had enough examples containing concrete engagement with the physical world. Conveniently, many scholars engage with each of my topics in ways that allow them to seamlessly connect with each other. I was able to locate a few scholars who have written quite a bit about the intersection of art and ecology. Due to the potential of scholarship about environmental art to be a bit abstract, I was happy to find quite a few sources that referenced the physical realities of ecological art pieces. Many of them discuss the physical limitations and practicality of eco-art. In addition, many also mention new materialism and reference the complexity of matter, which will help me draw connections between my topics. 

I found many sources on new materialism, including a welcome critique which outlined new materialist scholars tendency to focus on the past, and thus overlook the socio-political events of our time. I included a fairly diverse range of authors, from those who hold conventional conceptions of new materialism to authors who argue for the consideration of both the past and future of matter and the consideration of stories and performance as object. Many of my sources on new materialism consider matter as an aesthetic object or a form of expression, which will be helpful when connecting it to environmental art. 

My sources on symbolic action are arguably the most diverse collection of my three topics. Most relate seamlessly with my other topics and the type of artistic symbolic action I plan to discuss in my thesis. However, a few important sources engage with symbolic action in a more realist sense regarding both governmental and institutional organizations. These sources are valuable to a discussion about symbolic action vs. concrete action. As I argue the value of symbolic action, it will be important for me to be able to delineate between different types of symbolic action and communicate that to the reader.  

Completing an ‘isms’ map aided me in thinking through the connections between my topics as well as other important words whose relationships benefit from definition. My topics are abstract, so categorizing and mapping them alongside other significant actors allowed me to think through how I ultimately hope to make connections in my thesis. Considering a final visual product helped me think through potential holes in my thought processes or ungrounded assumptions about my connections that were in need of elaboration or reconfiguration. 


Framing question: How do artists engage in environmental activism? 

Collecting sources for my annotated bibliography to address this question opened up various avenues I plan to follow in my research. In particular, it revealed a recurrent theme regarding how artists engage in environmental activism. I was repeatedly drawn to how artists create worlds of varying degrees of imagination in response to the realities and occurences of the physical world. The creation of worlds kept emerging as a link between my three topics as well. The rest of my research places focus on various aspects of world-creation that artists engaging with ecology often use.

Descriptive: What worlds do environmental artists create?

The sources I found are helping me construct a tentative answer to this question. It seems that in response to ecological phenomena, artists create various imagined worlds that are charged with materials connected with our collective reality. They tend to address ecological crises and often ultimately lean towards a utopian vision, even if they are ultimately posed as dystopian.

My isms map has been useful to me as a very broad outline of features that imagined worlds may contain or be built of off. Most of the big words, topics and isms I incorporated are pulled from either real or imagined worlds represented within my research. Seeing them visually 

deconstructed helps me recognize the components of real and imagined worlds and therefore recognize when artists are constructing them. 

Explanatory: Why do artists choose to create the worlds that they do?

Considering the sources I chose, artists imagined worlds often seem to be either related to the artist’s own experience or a conception of a future world. I have been picking out instances of constructed worlds from my sources, as well as analyzing how each of my topics separately act/react within worlds. My isms map is helping me draw connections back to the sources of the impulse to construct worlds. 

Evaluative: Is it valuable to create worlds in response to ecological phenomena?

Exploring this question, I am influenced by sources that propose critiques of artists works and aspects of constructed worlds because they ensure my assessment is balanced. Because so many artists are creating various worlds either advertently or inadvertently in response to ecological phenomena, I would argue that my sources suggest worlds are at the very least important to the psyche of the artist. 

Instrumental: Is artist’s creation of worlds effective in affecting societal change?

This question is where the sources that discuss specific artworks become most useful. Many of the sources contain either scholar’s responses to artworks or accounts of how viewers responded to artworks. These help me begin to piece together a tentative answer to this question. My isms map helps me place art into a social context.

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