Introduction to the Visual Arts

Sustainable Art


Art is often made from expensive materials.
Art is often made from toxic materials.
Art is often made from non-biodegradable materials.
Art materials often wind up in landfill.
Or… we do everything we can to make artworks last forever.

This week you can make a piece of (or about) Sustainable Art. Or Ephemeral Art. Or both!

Sustainable Art

Found materials.

This week make something out of found materials. Finding some leaves on a walk by a stream would be great. But in a time of pandemic isolation, that might not be possible or desirable. Look around your house. Look in your trash! Find waste or organic materials that you can reuse as art materials. Make a collage or sculpture or anything you like from these materials.

Ephemeral Art

Non-permanent art.

For much of Art History, the quest has been to work with Archival Materials that can last as close to forever as possible. Human culture doesn’t ever want to lose Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Forever is nice. We pay a fortune for diamond rings because diamonds are long-lasting and signal the hope that our marriages might also be long-lasting.

But does everything, does all art, have to be forever? What about living in the moment? Is it only real if it’s on Instagram or TikTok? Can a camera-free moment be more authentic than a camera-captured moment? What about the power of dancing with someone even when no one takes a picture? Do you need a picture of your hike in the hills? Or is the lived experience more than enough?

Make a work of art that, like a Buddhist sand mandala, is designed to not be permanent. It might be something that, like a Buddhist sand mandala, you destroy yourself at the end by sweeping it up or burning the paper, etc, or it might be a piece that you leave around but that degrades because of the erosion of nature or other factors.


  • What was your idea?
  • What materials did you choose?
  • Do you think your piece was able to express your idea?
  • How did your choice of materials influence the experience of your artwork?
  • How long should a kiss last?
  • How long should a great meal last?
  • How long should a work of art last?
  • How long should a marriage last?
  • How long should a human life last?
  • Does the fact that some things, like ephemeral artworks and human lives, have a finite time and then are gone make a difference in the way we experience them?
  • Should other things, like clean water, air, and land be sustainable and long lasting?
  • Can one person, like you, make a difference in a global problem like Climate Change?
Andy Goldsworthy, Rowan Leaves and Hole. 1987
Andy Goldsworthy, Rowan Leaves and Hole, 1987