David Shepherd Art of Survival Award WINNER 2021

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Nature and Us: A History through Art

Martin Aveling

If you are an artist who specialises in wildlife, you may well have experienced a degree of irreverence from certain factions of the art world. Perhaps you have been labelled a "hobbyist" or you were told that wildlife art is not a pure art form? I have always found this view point deeply unfair. After all, we were wildlife artists before anything else! Perhaps wildlife art is in fact the purest form of art?

Drawing of a child and rhino sitting back to back. The child is wearing a pokemon onesie and scream mask and staring at a smart phone

Last night I watched the first episode of 'Nature and Us: A History through Art', written and presented by art historian, Dr. James Fox. In this series Dr. Fox uses art to explore how our relationship with nature has changed over time, looking specifically at the influence of agriculture, cities and faiths in shaping our desire to control the natural world.

When humans first started creating art they were clearly in awe of the wildlife that surrounded them. Looking back at early cave paintings very little attention and care was given to depicting humans. It was other animals that took centre stage. Preserved for thousands of years on vast stone tableaus, these artworks are available for us all to marvel at today, giving an insight into what motivated the first human artists on earth.

Drawing depicting humans as a plague on planet earth. Composition designed to resemble a virus

Over time humans turned inwards. We became increasingly obsessed with ourselves and shut out the rest of nature. This was arguably our greatest failing as a species, setting a precedent for generations to come. Years of human apathy towards the environment has made us the architects of ecological collapse. Perhaps now, for the first time in centuries, we are again aware of our place in nature. A new generation of humans have woken up to our reliance on it, and are demanding environmental justice.

If this narrative can be observed through art history records then we ignore wildlife art at our own peril. Our planet is teetering on the edge and we are currently experiencing a sixth mass extinction. Wildlife art can help to communicate this to the masses, and with a greater understanding we might just be able to turn things around.

Drawing of a dung beetle pushing the earth

I would love for wildlife artivism to be the next chapter in human creative exploration. Please, show me yours!

Drawing of an octopus with tempura batter on the tips of three tentacles - wildlife artivism
Drawing of a chameleon with half its body reflecting the pattern of a wall - wildlife artivism
Drawing of a green sea turtle with its hind flippers and back of shell turning into plastic bubble wrap - wildlife artivism
Drawing of a dodo. The latest science was used to create a more accurate representation of the extinct bird

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