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April 2006

April 2006: Seeds

Gallery

Columns

  • EMG News:
    April: Seeds
  • Wombat Droppings:
    The Process (As Promised)
  • Healthy Green Artists:
    The Artist, Globalisation, and the Cultural Creatives
  • Behind the Art:
    The ABC of Watercolor Brushes
  • Myths and Symbols:
    The Sun, Part 3

    Features

  • What on Earth is an Art Card?
  • Online Marketing, Part Four: Resources
  • Writer's Boot Camp, Part 2: Word Warriors

    Fiction

  • Poem: Dragon's Tooth
  • Boot Camp: Boot Camp Exercises

    Reviews

  • Movie: 9 Naga
  • Movie: Underworld: Evolution


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  • The Artist, Globalisation, and the Cultural Creatives
    Healthy Green Artists
    by Janet Chui

    Art doesn't often get discussed as an industry - a lot of artists work alone. We don't have annual global symposiums or trade shows (I know I couldn't afford to go), and though there are periodicals about art, there are few venues that recognize and discuss on a regular basis, artists as an industry and as a social, economic, environmental, or even political force.

    So are you up for a thought exercise? Are you ready to know where the artist's cog fits in the world? Ready for the next industrial revolution?

    First let's expand the idea of artists - treat the word as a basket, and into that throw the "outsider" artists, the culinary artists, the performance artists (including dancers, actors, playwrights), the literary artists, architects, product designers, crafters, the people you know who are creative but may not be termed "artist" for whatever reason - and now you've got a heavy basket and a sizable group of people that looks like they could be a force in the world. They are.

    The tragedy, however, has already been stated - we aren't often gathered in the same physical space, social grouping, or even definition. And so our collective impact and our industry, its inputs and its outputs, its sales figures, our expenditure on marketing, our profits, the size of our markets, the growth of our industry, are never quite the subject of study or discussion. And those are just the traditional ways of measuring wealth (or failure). Even more often neglected are: the social impact of our products on our communities, the environmental impact of our products, the socio-economic impact of manufacture of the materials we purchase to create our products, the fossil-fuel use in the shipping of our raw materials to ourselves, then the fossil fuel use in shipping our products out, the water and electricity use in the creation of our products, our waste, the housing and lifestyle of our workers, whether our products harm animals, whether our products (or its raw material is used) harm people, faraway struggling democracies, or the health of the planet.

    I don't know about you, but the more I find out about my impact and "ecological footprint" on the world, even as an individual, the more I feel empowered. If I think of myself as a business, the feeling grows. If I think of my business as part of a creative industry, and one that may one day become conscious of its power to command environmental/social/economic change in this world, I'm ready to thump my fists against my chest and issue an earth-shaking roar.

    But I'll spare my neighbors and start on the topic of globalization, and the artist's current place in it. It may not often be thought about. But it's the stage we are all players upon. (If it occurs to you that an artist's column is suddenly very economic and socio-political sounding, ha, yes! That was my plan. And I'd like to remind my readers that not so very long ago - only a century back - artists, inventors, writers, businessmen, royalty, and politicians were natural elbow-rubbers in French art salons. Technology fueled social changes that inspired ideology that influenced art that reflected life impacted by technology.)

    Globalization has many definitions or understandings by many different people, and I'm going try my own hand at it thusly: It is the easy transaction of capital, goods, and services between countries; a phenomenon supported by existing technology, governments, and multinational businesses; and easy access to international markets of consumers.

    With globalization we can sell art to art-buyers from Scandinavia. With globalization we can be inspired by anime from Japan, films from France, death metal from Germany. With globalization we can fuel ourselves with coffee from Indonesia, rice from Thailand, fruit from South America. With globalization we can buy affordable paper, craft materials, beads, and manufactured metal "findings" from China. With globalization our computers run on parts manufactured in 20 different countries (and our computer tech support comes from call centers in India). The hardware and software that support the Internet - truly international.

    It's an exciting era in which to be alive and to be a consumer or business. The world - the "global village" - is literally at our door, as close as our computer screens or as the cell phone at our ear.

    It's easy to get caught up in the coolness of the gadgetry, the dazzle of the TV commercials, the style and worldliness of the coffee chain's decor. Some of us will be aware of which parts of the earth our consumer goods come from. A smaller percentage has wondered ... beneath the seduction of the slick ads, slick products, throwaway fads, and so-affordable prices, is there a cost for all this coolness that isn't shown on the price tag?

    The short answer is yes. The long answer may be too large for this column, but the long answer is a complicated but uncompromising yes. In our world of international connectedness, billions and trillions of dollars worth of goods traversing the globe every day. Factories in the States are closing while factories in China opening. Millions of tons of toxins and dioxins are pouring into the atmosphere from the manufacture of medical drugs and recreational goods for "advanced" countries. Polluting or labor-intensive industries are being situated in countries with weak labor and environmental laws, and the natural resources of developing countries are being plundered so they can try to capture the wealth of the rich countries. There is the growing monetary and/or natural poverty of an ever-increasing percentage of people all over the world, the perpetuation of inequality in world when it comes to access to basic living needs, healthcare, housing, education, living wages; at the same time billions of dollars are being poured into wars or advertising campaigns a day. Here it is, the world behind the price tag.

    It should be no wonder that globalization has also given birth to the conscious consumer, the Adbusters movement, the anti-sweatshop movement, the voluntary simplicity movement, the people who support local independent businesses, the organic movement, the sustainable goods movement - all people who've decided in one way or another to become more active and thoughtful in choosing which businesses and products they support. What's encouraging is that these movements aren't just for consumers; they are for businesses and artists too.

    Paul H. Ray, Phd., and Sherry Ruth Anderson, Phd., with their backgrounds in psychology and macro-sociology, saw in these movements an emerging cultural group they termed Cultural Creatives. They estimate 50 million people are becoming conscious or concerned of the environmental, political and social impact of their lifestyle choices, and a core group is leading the pack by dreaming up and offering sustainable and imaginative goods and services on business plans that take a holistic view of things. They are not just determined to make profits - they are also determined to make a positive impact on the planet.

    Among some of the goals of Cultural Creative businesses is one to create "zero-waste", forming symbiotic manufacturing relationships where the waste products created in one business are the raw materials for another business - inspired by Nature's system where everything created naturally has a purpose in vast network of life. Another is making products that at the end of its "life" can be made into another product without being downgraded in quality, and after that, that can in turn be made into something else again - the very ambitious "cradle-to-cradle" goal. Or there is the "simple" plan of trying to make one's business fair, and completely ecologically and environmentally sustainable - the "Natural Step."

    As mentioned in the very beginning, the art industry doesn't have symposiums that lay out possible revolutionary paths for its participants to take in its way they make art - but what if it could? What if it did? But would we only have to wait for the event to be organized before we as individuals recognize the possibilities and the power at our hands to remake the way we make art, where our materials come from, and how they should be obtained instead? Even if most artists work alone, there are already plenty of artists, some more conscious about why or what they're doing than others, who are already working with natural items only (hemp, natural fibers), or discarded items only (art on teabag paper, collages from trash). Some trade waste materials with other artists, or work with organic and locally grown items only (health- and socially-conscious cooking) or using fairly traded materials only. Or they can use recycled items only (100% recycled paper, recycled silk, recycled denim), avoiding petrochemicals and source materials shipped from far away. Some artists are creating products that are safely compostable (100% organic soft furnishings), smartly designed, or that require less energy consumption (environmental architecture, energy efficient product design). Or there are creatives organizing independent art and/or spontaneous music events that raise money for charity and that draw communities together.

    Indian writer Arundhati Roy sums up our current world thus: "At a time when opportunism is everything, when hope seems lost, when everything boils down to a cynical business deal, we must find the courage to dream. To reclaim romance. The romance of believing in justice, in freedom, in dignity. For everybody. We have to make common cause, and to do this we need to understand how this big old machine works - who it works for and who it works against."

    I challenge all artists to keep dreaming, but to dream real, and dream bigger.

    Janet Chui
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