Environmental problems constitute a major social issue facing humanity today. A starting point for ameliorating such problems is the meaningful reconnection of humans with the natural world. Arguably, art is a useful tool for changing our perceptions of the environment and nurturing our relationship to it. This study explores how four North Florida artists, Linda Hall, Mark Messersmith, David Moynahan, and Paul Rutkovsky, address environmental issues in selected artworks, and it examines the implications of their approaches for environmental art education. Contextual art criticism was used to analyze the artworks, and interviews and observation were additional methods for collecting data.
Many themes emerged from the qualitative analysis of the data. The most fundamental finding is that the artistsí shared a holistic worldview, that is, a belief in the underlying interconnectedness of all life. Other themes that emerged include the artistsí common depiction of nature as inherently spiritual and powerful, and their provision of an aesthetic experience that connects the viewer to the natural world by stimulating reflection and remembrance. Another theme involved the creative process for these artists; all cultivated their own relationships with nature by spending time in natural environments and learning about the ecology of places. Finally, all the artists enabled viewers and students to develop a sense of place, a sense of local environmental issues, and an appreciation for the natural wonder of their nearby environs.
The artists accomplished these ends by facilitating their own and othersí direct interactions with nature, cultivating sensory awareness and an affinity toward nature, and acting on their own moral reasoning about the wise stewardship of the earth. Finally, through collaboration and communication, the artists created a sense of community in which their students could take part. The findings are instructive for art teachers, who can facilitate their studentsí connection with the natural world by fostering a local sense of place, providing experiences that help students learn to respect a place, open up to a place, and awaken their curiosity about it. As the artists communicate through their artworks, they share their emotions, convictions, and deep personal connections to natural places. Their work, and the implications it holds for art teachers, can only contribute to a sense of community and responsibility for the environment among students.