Sustainable Art

By Rachel Joseph (First Year Experience Intern, Re-Creation)

Many people have a fixed and culturally defined idea of what “art” is supposed to be, what “art” has to be—a towering stone sculpture of a nude woman, a vivid painting on a large cloth canvas, an intricately detailed ceramic vase. Many people think of “art” only as a permanent installation that can be admired by the masses for centuries. They think of the concrete pieces fixed in museums or prized collections donning the hallway walls of mansions. They think of the Mona Lisa, Starry Night, the statue of David.



Yet, art can no longer be limited to historical prescriptions. Now, more than ever, creative minds are changing the meaning of the word “art,” giving it new and fantastic forms. Luckily for us, many of these new art forms are created in more sustainable ways than art of the past, which required raw and often harmfully obtained precious materials to create. Surely most people don’t consider paintings and sculptures to be our biggest worry when it comes to resource extraction and environmental degradation, but that’s not the point.

The point of sustainable art is to send a message. Artists have used their forms of expression to send messages, make statements, and force people to ask questions for ages. In this way, art can be used to spread the word of sustainability as efficiently and effectively as any informational brochure or political petition. What kind of implicit message exists within a sculpture made of all the trash a typical American throws away in one week? What statement is being made by a man who puts his signature on a broken urinal and sets it upon a podium, calling it art?

I recently came across one of these new forms of art that carries, for me, deep meaning related to sustainability: snow art. Simon Beck from Southern England has been creating giant snow art pieces, reminiscent of crop circles, since 2004. Wearing special snowshoes, he walks around frozen lakes covered with freshly fallen snow to create gigantic patterns and designs, only visible in their entirety from the mountains above. Beck spends up to nine hours in the cold winter wind to complete a single piece, which completely disappears upon the next snowfall. His work is beautiful, yet fleeting.



So what’s the point of working so hard on something that is destined to disappear? To me, that is the point. Beauty is fleeting, as are we, especially if we don’t begin making massive changes to our lifestyles and technologies. Not only does Beck’s art take advantage of the natural beauty that the landscape provides, but he never fights it, allowing his pieces to be naturally extinguished with each snowfall. Yes, he photographs the pieces, but the original works are lost forever as they are absorbed back into the snow-covered lakes that are his canvas.


Beauty, and an important message, can also be found in Beck’s process of creation: simply walking. His paint and brush are his left and right feet, walking in predetermined formations to create magnificent designs. He takes nothing from this earth yet makes something wonderful upon it. He resists the urge to be memorialized and admired, allowing his work to be erased. Hopefully, Beck’s snow art will inspire other artists to use what is already there, to work with nature to create beauty. Hopefully, his art will inspire more than just artists to work with Mother Nature, finding opportunity in what she has to provide.


Photo Sources:,,,


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