It was about a decade into my career as a wildlife artist when I first asked myself the question, “is wildlife art really working for wildlife?”
I had reached a stage where I was no longer feeling satisfied with the work I was producing. I was happy with the quality, but I felt that my drawings had very little meaning. If anything they were only helping to pedal a false narrative about the health of our planet's wildlife. When over ninety percent of all rhinos disappear in just one human lifetime, for no other reason than to give some wealthy people a false sense of virility and status, shouldn’t we perhaps be focusing more on that detail?
When art only ever shows animals in a positive light it is a bit like only posting about the good times on social media. I don't think enough wildlife artists are addressing the destructive impact of humans in their work, and I think we are missing a trick. The landscape for how we communicate is now largely online. It is fast-paced and fickle, and the ability to create quality visual content is an advantage when competing for eyeballs. The human brain can process images 60,000 times faster than text,
Artivism uses elements of fantasy to help communicate the truth. A legal metaphor might have the wildlife artist playing the role of the courtroom sketch artist, documenting who is in the room, whereas the wildlife artivist is the barrister pleading the case for the accused. Wildlife artivism is PR for animals who don't have a voice.
I once believed that beauty alone inspires and compels us to take action. This may be the case for some, but as wildlife enthusiasts we can't expect everyone to care as much about animals as we do. Beauty can in some cases prevent people from seeing the uncomfortable truths by creating an impression that everything is fine and that we need not worry. If gentle stimulation of guilt is a way to get people's attention, then so be it. Through discussions I have had with the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, a new competition was established in 2019 for creatives who practice wildlife artivism. The ‘Human Impact’ category at the prestigious DSWF ‘Wildlife Artist of the Year’ exhibition is open to artists between the ages of 16-22 years:
The winner of this category receives the 'Ingrid Beazley Award' - A £5,000 grant designed to help wildlife, stimulate creativity, and support young activists who are struggling with eco-anxiety.
If you are of age and thinking about entering, you may find some useful tips in this video of the judges discussing the competition: