By MJ Gauthier
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017
Despite ongoing technological progress and international development, environmental degradation remains ever constant around the world. And while movements for environmental and resource protection have put issues like climate change on the agenda, a general disenchantment in the possibility of change continues to nourish widespread, apathetic individualism and disconnectedness.
This is why a serious, immediate re-envisioning of our relationship with nature is critical, and art — particularly that of Indigenous peoples — can help. French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote that nature is mute; however, Indigenous peoples give reverence to the Earth as a teacher, mother and creator. Rather than exhausting its resources as if there were no tomorrow, they devotedly care for nature and put holistic connectedness at the center of their relationship with it.
Indigenous peoples’ worldviews are well articulated through their art, which reflects the importance of connectedness. Indigenous artists such as Jane Ash Poitras and Aubrey Rubuntja sublimate nature; Susan Point, John Weerongta Bartoo, and Jimmy Kurtnu Pike revel in its ubiquitous patterns of connectedness; and Bill Reid Art and Gerry Surha represent all forms of life, making plain the basic Indigenous belief in the interconnectedness of all things. Generally, there is a coherent, collective, moral vision in Indigenous art that is aligned with the values they live by.
Although mainstream art less commonly depicts humanity’s relationship with nature, this was not always the case historically. For instance, the Egyptian art of the soul and the unspeakable, the Islamic art of supreme symmetry and juxtapositions of colors, the Japanese arts of the floating world, and the Romantic and Fauvist efforts to empower imagination and emotion all display the connection between humans and nature.
In a world where hundreds of millions of people are starving and ecosystems are failing, the promise of our future depends on the articulation, internalization, and globalization of a coherent moral vision that honors both nature and human experience. Indeed, we must humble ourselves, understanding that each of us has an impact on the natural environment. And in so doing, we can consider the approaches of Indigenous peoples, which make clear that, in order to foster social connectedness, the collective mind must be cast to nature.
If we focus on using art in our pursuit of a vision of holistic connectedness, a viable breakthrough is possible. Art is undeniably a powerful catalyst for change, as it has a strong capacity to move the human mind. With that in mind, we can increase empathy and compassion by promoting human creativity. We can enlighten our consciousness by re-empowering our faculty of infinite imagination. We can infallibly foster social connectedness by cultivating and celebrating beauty in all its forms.
Of course, this is but one approach to the challenges we face today, but meaningful art is crucial to the achievement of progress, particularly in fostering a greater connection between people and nature. I would like to invite any interested reader to visit an Instagram account I have created to showcase powerful works of art relevant to the social connectedness movement, and to submit creations of your own or ones that you appreciate.