The rising concern about global warming and climate-change in the past few decades, made us all became quite familiar with the terms like eco-friendly, ecological, green or sustainable. These terms are applicable to all sorts of industries, products, services including art and culture. Yes, even art can be sustainable.

Sustainability was practiced ever since ancient civilizations but in modern world this term was introduced in art around 1960s. The eco-friendly concept first appeared as “Environmental art movement“. The leading artists associated with this type of art included Jean-Max Albert, Piotr Kowalski, Nils Udo and Robert Smithson.

Let’s grab some understanding of sustainable and eco-friendly aspect of art.

Earth Paper! Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash


According to Maja and Reuben Fowkes (London-based curators, critics and art historians), the modern concept of sustainable art can be traced back to 1960s and early 1970s with the advent of conceptual art. It focuses on dematerialisation and questioning of the functioning of the art system. After the end of Cold War in 1989, the concept of sustainability emerged as a new awareness of the global character of ecological and social problems.

The basic concept of sustainability to harness a better future revolves around –

  • Conserving an ecological balance,
  • Mindful use of natural resources,
  • Preserving nature
  • Reducing carbon footprint
  • Optimum implementation of recycling and upcycling materials.
  • Following eco-friendly and socially-responsible measures.

In terms of art, we can find innovative ways to create an art that can benefit the environment in any possible way.


Nature has been an inspiration for humankind since the era of paleolithic cave paintings. The cave paintings represents animals and human figures which are an important aspect of nature. The use of natural colors or pigments and painting equipments made out of naturally available materials can be seen as the beginning of environmental art.

Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain

The ancient works of eco-artists can be seen in the landscapes found in ancient Chinese engravings, drawings in Ancient Egyptian tombs, Roman frescoes from 1st B.C. and rural motifs in medieval religious paintings. However, nature became an autonomous subject in painting with the rise of Renaissance, in the 15th and 16th centuries.


Nature has always been a matter of interest for artists. Other then simply representing artist’s connection with the environment through landscape paintings, modern sustainable artists are now using non-toxic, sustainable materials in their art practices as well as integrating conceptual ideas of sustainability into their work.

Green living” is now becoming a popular trend, and the art world is no exception. The environmental crisis we are globally facing, call forth the new artistic movements to mindfully use nature within the actual artwork. People are now becoming more aware of global warming and our collective need to protect the Earth.

The global mindset is to appreciate the concept of sustainability and thus we are seeing more and more artists approaching and working in the realm of sustainable or eco-friendly art.


There can be many factors addressing sustainable art like-

  • Type and components of product made
  • Amount of fossil fuels required in making the product
  • Natural resources involved in making any product
  • Potential damage to ecosystems
  • Eco-friendly materials
  • Use of toxic chemicals and colors
  • Energy efficiency
  • Waste produced and its management
  • Recycling, reuse, renewable, organic materials
  • Pollution strategy
  • Cruelty-free products
  • Amount of water required and waste water management
  • Use of natural pigments

The list is ongoing. There are so many factors that affects sustainability. The concept may vary from person to person. There are so many different aspects and perspectives of sustainability that it is difficult to address them all.

Eco products, zero waste. Photo by Anna Oliinyk on Unsplash


In the current scenario, the artistic community is operating hard to develop an art which is in total harmony with the nature. Zero- waste, reduced carbon footprint, optimum use of eco-friendly materials, recycling and similar measures are now being employed by the contemporary artists to make their art a sustainable art.

The link between art and sustainability is not limited to physical media. It goes far beyond the mere use of natural materials. For some artists, sustainable art refers to an artwork that deals with or critiques environmental issues, while for other eco artists it is related to the materials used and green studio practices which were followed while completing an art piece.


There can be two different approaches while dealing with sustainable or eco-friendly art. First approach is to highlight the current environmental problems through an art, censuring unsustainable features of society, promoting eco-friendly products and offering creative ideas to achieve sustainability. Second approach is to other approach turns the critique towards the art itself, to analyse the environmental impact of producing certain artworks.

Some works, like John Sabraw’s paintings, with pigments made from toxic river sludge use actual pieces of polluted earth as their media. Others use more traditional materials to bring awareness to a particular issue, like Paulo Grangeon’s 1,600 Pandas, which installed paper-mache sculptures in a highly visible public space to confront human impact on endangered species.

An artist’s work can be sustainable and eco-friendly all at once. In either way they must be conscious of the materials they use, their socio-ecological impact and the message they convey through their art.


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