What is the role of art in wildlife conservation?
Conservationists are working tirelessly to gather species and ecosystems back from the brink of extinction, grabbing them by the wrists/stems just as the cliff-edge crumbles beneath their feet/roots. We need those heroes. But my focus for this post is on art, and its role in a synchronous, often undervalued, arm of the whole planet-saving plan: human behaviour change.
Full disclosure: I'm not the first person to realise human behaviour needs some attention here. But I do think it needs to be acknowledged more often. The topic is complex and the in-depth science around how behaviour is wired into our strange, stubborn brains is fairly recent. It seems we’ve been tackling a lot of behaviour-based issues in the wrong ways for a long time. There are some great examples in health campaigns – like when we decided to tell everybody that smoking kills you and so everybody stopped smoking. Oh, wait…
We are optimistic, socially-driven beings and once we know the facts, for the best results, we now know it's important to feel an emotional connection to the cause. And that we need to feel as though we are part of a communal movement towards positive change.
Luckily for this cause, we all feel an inherent connectedness with the outside world. Even if we spend most of our lives tucked up on an office chair staring at a screen, every single one of us knows the grounding feeling of walking through a forest or along a windy coastal path and being transported back to our roots. We all know that wholesome feeling of being at one with our environment.
Though it is a deeply unfortunate and painful truth that we can’t all live a life akin to Sir David Attenborough’s, there are ways that we can bring the wonders of the natural world to us – including through the many mediums of art. A striking piece of art can have more impact than even the most gripping news article. Artists have the ability to evoke feelings with their work. And that emotional connection is hugely important to changing the way we view the world and, in turn, the likelihood of us joining the ever-growing army of people making positive change for the environment.
Beyond raising funds for conservation organisations (which some wildlife artists and organisations do extremely well!), art can be a hugely effective tool for triggering positive change. It’s not difficult to find art we love, art we really don’t like, and art that we just don’t get. And that’s kind of the point. Art is subjective. If it wasn’t, how would it have the potential to tug on our heart strings? Art can send messages, raise awareness, prompt conversations and facilitate emotional connections.
For me, wildlife art is also a way to bring some more optimism into our lives. We are surrounded by so much negative media, especially when it comes to conservation. Yes, we need to know what’s going on. But we also need to know what can be done to help and how we can achieve success. We need to hear about the small wins and amazing projects underway all over the globe. We need to remember the reasons we're trying to make changes. We need to feel like when we’re washing out the jar for our sustainable-palm-oil-containing peanut butter ready for recycling, we’re actually making a difference, together.
I hope that my artwork fosters that sense of community, reminds us what we’re working towards and helps us feel connected with our ultimate goal: biodiversity! Biodiversity everywhere!