Home Institution

Vassar College

Publication Date

Fall 2016

Program Name

Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action


Throughout the month of November 2016, I undertook a creative environmental art project in Melbourne, Australia. I chose to create a water-soluble oil painting (dimensions 3 ft. x 4 ft.) that represents water pollution problems in the city of Melbourne, particularly in Port Phillip Bay. These problems include toxic stormwater runoff, plastics pollution and plastic nurdles, as well as nutrient buildup and algal overgrowth. The painting includes messages regarding sustainability; sustainable action limits the use of our natural resources so that humans can preserve the environment for future generations rather than degrade it. In the painting, I combine conceptual and compositional strategy with overt references to pollution problems in order to have viewers consider their own role in environmental destruction. The ultimate goal of this facilitated reflection was to inspire improved environmental action from the viewer.

As part of this endeavor, I conducted background research concerning the origins of environmental art, finding that environmental attitudes have been depicted in painting for hundreds of years. I also researched Australian environmental art and discovered many positive examples that exemplify art’s highly unique methods of provoking environmental understanding. Art’s ability to promote sustainability exists in its inherent psychological and emotional appeals. While many Melbourne water pollution initiatives exist, I created my painting assuming that the cause could still benefit from environmental art.

As part of my research, I interviewed two Australian environmental artists as part of my research, John Dahlsen and Debbie Symons. These conversations informed my artwork and gave insight into the world of professional environmental art. Additionally, with the assistance of Public Art Officer Georgia Rouette, I arranged to publicly display my painting along the St. Kilda Beach boardwalk. Throughout two days of public display, I collected observational data and conversational accounts regarding viewer response to my art. While it is impossible to state how many individuals actually changed their environmental actions after seeing my painting, the viewer response was positive and many people were able to see my work. Ultimately, I concluded that environmental art, including the piece that I produced, has an important role in the environmentalist movement. While educational in nature, environmental art often presents unattractive problems in a beautiful and approachable way. I believe that the aesthetics that I developed in my piece, as well as those found in other environmental artworks, spread knowledge and motivate change by challenging viewers to imagine environmental problems in a new way.


Art and Design | Environmental Education | Graphic Communications | Materials Science and Engineering | Painting | Social Influence and Political Communication | Sustainability | Water Resource Management


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