When a cheeky artist once placed an old tire on the shoulders of a stuffed goat in the name of American art, critics raved and—to make a long story unfairly short—Robert Rauschenberg became a pop-art hero of the 1950s. He died rich and famous, his name synonymous with the neo-dada art movement.
I mention him as I would fill in a contrasting background for a painting about the present, in which there is neither time nor riches remaining to lift from obscurity all the artists now hard at work using garbage to create pop art. We will never read books about them, nor will they likely die wealthy, because they are not trying to sell themselves to art buyers as the next geniuses, nor are they interested in starting an art movement. They are trying to preserve sufficient habitat for the human species to survive.
My aim here is twofold: to thank all artists whose efforts are dedicated to preserving life on earth and to assert that art can no longer be reserved for mere self-expression, because climate change makes a tribe of us all, just as strangers caught in a collapsed building bond like blood relatives in the minute or hours they share an uncertain life-or-death fate. Every second is precious.
This Ecozoic Era is marked by urgency, and one consequence of rising temperatures is the end of a silly misunderstanding that art is the purview of professionals. Rather, these times return artistic expression to the entire tribe, as it was before excess intellectualism and market forces convinced us to admire the emperor’s new clothes.
Last night I admired a display of children’s “pop art” at the Napa Library, derived of old plastic bags and fresh enthusiasm for bringing canvas bags to the grocery store (as our fellow tribesfolk have done for decades in the extended village across the Atlantic). Countless classrooms of children now making art with garbage will inherit the earth, including what’s left of the oceans where all our plastic bags end up. I can’t thank each child by name, nor can I thank individually those whose creative work brought about in California the country’s toughest recycling goals, via AB 341. As a tribe, our creativity is not about individual fame and glory, yet always about gratitude. So lastly I thank that unnamed North Bay person who recently changed one small habit in the interest of human survival.
Every global villager shares a responsibility to increase beauty and enhance life, because each selfless act of creativity enriches the whole tribe, the whole planet.