What should artists do?

I was taking to an artist, a painter who paints nature, and asked why wasn’t he at the forest rally.

If you visit local art galleries, a majority of the works work with nature. Not surprising, since this is a a region packed with natural values and natural beauty. How many artists were among the demonstrators trying to save our vanishing landscapes, habitats, wildlife?

It is not enough to write a poem, paint a picture take a photograph and think – I am helping in the fight against climate change, biodiversity loss extinctions, I am doing enough.

Brett Whitely won the 1959 Italian travelling art scholarship to Rome with strange abstracts unlike anything that came later. He was so young, but had introductions, wrote to his mother, ‘I peddled up to the Villa X and presented myself to the Marquesa’ (who promptly introduced him to a Duke). ‘Over dinner we discussed Florentine history, Australian sharks and the responsibilities of the artist in society.’ [i] Whitely’s brilliance, boldness and love of heroin limited his role as an artist in society to the Romantic cliché of the male genius.

‘To amplify Earth’s beauty is one of the noble responsibilities of artists in general and photographers in particular. However, this leads to contradictions hard to grapple with. Travelling is, to some extent, participating in the destruction of the beauty.’ Guillaume Flandre[ii]

‘Most of the work I’m doing currently comes, I think, from the realization that we’re living in a state of emergency. I feel that more than ever we must step outside the strictly art arena. It is not enough to make art.’ Performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña[iii]


[i] From the documentary ‘Whitely’, 2017, director, James Bogle. ‘Bogle romantically paints Brett who struggled to be a good man; someone who failed.’ Lauren Carroll Harris, ‘Brett Whiteley and the myth of the great male art genius’, Guardian, 11 May 2017

[ii] Guillaume Flandre commenting on his photograph, ‘Witness and Perpetrator to Witness’, image of a hand holding melting ice. ‘Would I lie to you? Images that speak the truth – in pictures’ The British Journal of Photography and Galerie Huit Arles, winners of OpenWalls Arles Volume 4. Guardian, 15 Aug, 2023.

[iii] Quoted by Suzi Gablik, ‘The Nature of Beauty in Contemporary Art’, New Renaissance Magazine, Vol 8:1, 1998.


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