Framework Outline: Art for a New Epoch

The process of condensing my abstract collection of theories and thoughts into a grounded, doable outline took me in directions I was not planning to go. Careful research about Eco-Art, Activism, and “New” Materialism, as well as their critiques, all while considering how/why artists create worlds, lead me to many discussions of the controversial Anthropocene.

During my research process, I resonated strongly with scholars writing critiques of new materialism, in some cases in conjunction with critiques of the Anthropocene. I picked up new materialism in an effort to find a language to analyze how contemporary artists incorporate the temporal complexities of matter into their work. After in-depth consideration, it became apparent to me that the new materialist discussion of vibrancy, agency, and liveliness of matter is not new, nor do I need complex language to communicate about matter in contemporary art. The materialism discussed is an important part of many indigenous ways of knowing as well as others throughout human history. TJ Demos provides a valuable critique of these authors, their failure to credit indigenous scholars in their materialist discussions and their assertion that they have ownership over these ideas.

As am now shifting my focus from new materialism, using my research on it mainly as a mode of critique. While considering how artists create worlds as symbolic acts, and discussing utopias/dystopias in ENVS 350, interesting readings about the Anthropocene and other proposed names for a new epoch caught my eye. Reading through them, I found that the conversations surrounding the new epoch, especially those incorporating eco-art, were a rich field in which to ground my interests in art, ecology, activism, curiosity about worlds that artists create, and critique of new materialism.

After a few days feeling aimless and lost in my research process and many fruitful conversations with insightful friends and mentors, I pieced together the framework and outline that best places my interests in conversation with one another. I intend to write my thesis about how artists work and the worlds they create within it, can be used as a tool to visualize and critically engaged with various proposed names and philosophies surrounding the New Epoch most commonly referred to as the Anthropocene. Alternative names for include the Capitalocene, Chthulucene, Plantationocene, Anglocene, and Gynocene. I plan to focus on the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene, and Plantationocene, focusing primarily on indigenous artist’s work critiquing the Anthropocene and visualization of alternative Epoch names.

My main roadblock now is supplementing my research so it supports my topic. I also need to do more concept mapping and rewrite portions of my annotated bibliography with new sources. As I collect new sources, I am also beginning to collect names of artists whose work I could reference. Additionally, many aspects of my topic are not areas of focus in either my ENVS or Studio Art major departments. In the near future, I plan to connect with faculty in the sociology, philosophy, and history departments to help me think through the humanities-based parts of my research.

I like the new direction I am going in and I still have time to rework my topics, do the necessary research, and find helpful resources. Many pieces of the research I have yet to do I find important, engaging, and I am enthusiastic about following this new framework .

Unpacking Environmental Theory

The past three weeks in Envs 350 have been centered around discussing what environmental theory is and why it is valuable to study. We began by reading A Manifesto for Theory in the Environmental Studies and Science (Proctor 2013) and Approaching Environmental Theory (Proctor 2019). The first addressed a lack of discussion and scholarship on environmental theory, and called for greater attention to be given to theory in the environmental studies and sciences. The later focused on how not to engage with environmental theory and discussed three tenets of unnecessary environmental scholarship. These readings all addressed the importance of environmental theory, while also attempting to navigate the fact that there is little scholarship on environmental theory. One of the most interesting things about this class is that while there are plenty of environmental theories out there, environmental theory is still not an established field. It is engaging to talk about defining where it’s value is and how best to learn it in a classroom.

One of the most clearly defined benefits of learning environmental theory is the space it provides to discuss different through a scholarly lens. With this in mind, we began considering the ecotypes survey, an alternative to the NEP scale (Dunlap 2008) that operates as more of a sliding scale. The ecotypes survey takes into consideration where individuals have conflicting beliefs or ideals and the nuances of how those ideals and beliefs connect. The ecotypes survey is a great way to consider the importance of engaging across difference. The ecotypes survey compares individuals results to the averaged results of everyone who has taken the survey. There numbers are not representative of the population as a whole because a majority of people who have taken the survey are white, female college students. However the numbers are an interesting tool to compare results to.