Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Science and Art: Understanding our Relationship with the Environment

     This past week the Center for Environment and Society proudly sponsored two lectures. The first was given by John Beardsley of Dumbarton Oaks and titled, “Art in the Environment: Sketches from the Field.” On the following night, the very day of it’s inception 40 years ago, Tom Horton discussed the Clean Water Act with a lecture titled, “40 Years of the Clean Water Act Through the Lens of the Chesapeake Bay.” The succession of these two lectures beautifully reflects the mission of the Center for Environment and Society. First, Beardlsey discussed the tension expressed by 19th century nature artists who represented the conflict between viewing the landscape with an artists’ eye as opposed to a developers. Beardsley went on to describe the 20th century movement he describes as the second era of nature art. Now we see a movement toward manipulating the environment to make powerful statements about beauty, purpose, and our relationship with the natural world.
Lightning Field, New Mexico by Walter DeMaria
     Beardsley ended his talk with a discussion of the benefits of a union between artistic and ecological pursuits. It is common practice to use art as a meditative or therapeutic exercise. Beardsley suggested that this practice could be applied to the broader relationship between all human beings and the natural world. In many ways Horton echoed this message the following evening with his call for a broader approach to conservation.
     Horton summarized many of the successes and the setbacks that have been a part of the history of the Clean Water Act. With population levels rising in the Chesapeake Bay region the amount of nutrient runoff and waste is increasing at enormous levels despite our best efforts. Horton mentioned the change from a wild oyster harvest to a system in which oysters are farmed as an example of one way that life in the Chesapeake Bay has changed. By encouraging interdisciplinary approaches, thorough scientific analysis, and community-based efforts, Horton believes that we will be able to keep improving the state of the Bay.
     Both Beardsley and Horton reminded their audiences that only by working together from many different perspectives do we have a chance of making real progress and saving the land that sustains us.
Foreman's Branch of the Chester River

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