I propose here a tool for analyzing how to implement multiple sustainability goals in artistic productions, or creative processes, both in well-established and in exploratory artistic practices. I have chosen to call the model How to Implement Sustainability Goals for Artistic Production (HisGap). This is a model that has been developed on the basis of own experiences in connection with one's own artistic practice, with the aim of covering several of the sustainability goals.
What are the UN's sustainability goals in art and design?
The Sustainability Goals are the world's joint work plan to eradicate poverty, combat inequality and curb climate change, by 2030 (United Nations, 2021, UN Sustainability Goals). The interdisciplinarity of the theme and the theme's need for innovation, can make sustainability very interesting and relevant for contemporary art and artistic didactics. But this young theme may lack a well-established artistic practice with proven methods that support it.
More and more professional bodies are conducting research and developing concepts within sustainability such as systems thinking, future orientation, normative competence, strategic competence, collaborative competence, critical thinking and self-awareness. A combination of all these competencies is called in sustainability didactics «integrated problem-solving competence». This is defined as an ability to use different frameworks and solutions to complex issues as a starting point for developing viable, fair and inclusive solutions that promote sustainable development.
I interpret this in this case as that we are facing a new context that we must find out for ourselves. We must look for creative solutions together, through mapping, exploration, reflection and problem solving.
As my experience is that so far only the topic of redesign covers a small part of the UN's sustainability goals in art and design, I would like to discuss why this is the case, and how perhaps more of the sustainability goals can be included than today.
The textbook Sustainability didactics in arts and crafts - reuse - invent - creation, which mainly deals with artistic didactics in primary school, seems to be emphasized on the UN's sustainability sub-goal 12.5. The goal states: “significantly reduce the amount of waste through prevention, reduction, material recycling and reuse” (UN Association, 2021, UN Sustainability Goals) The book refers to the need for a comprehensive aesthetic change and development in many different competencies (Naumann, Riis and Illeris, 2020, p. 27 ), but largely deals only with re-use techniques and recycling. This is a very small part of the UN's sustainability goals. This textbook on sustainability didactics in the subject arts and crafts, perhaps tells something about the lack of interdisciplinary knowledge. Maybe also something about political or scientific reluctance to create new traditions of the older generation of artists, critics, mentors and teachers. This can be based on everything from aesthetic habits to economics, and is too complex to go into further into this text.
But a sustainable work of art may show a change competence in terms of technique, material and message. A good sustainable work of art may also create a change in society's preferences for the work's aesthetics. The aesthetics of a work will probably have to change, if artists and their recipients become more conscious sustainable productions.
Creating an interdisciplinary teaching program, or an interdisciplinary artistic production, that meets the UN's sustainability goals, can be attacked as an exploratory project for both mentor and student, and can be an ideal situation for developing new creative abilities. But it is difficult to find literature on sustainability didactics that addresses a holistic, interdisciplinary mindset for such teaching.
Sustainability didactics in the arts may seem to lack a definition for sustainable, artistic creative processes and sustainable aesthetics from a more holistic perspective.
Sustainable aesthetics is, in my understanding, a type of work of art that in a holistic way relates to sustainability in material choice, themes and technique, as Eisner refers to his assessment criteria. (see bibliography for more info) If we are to follow Eisner's criteria, the work, in addition to knowledge of technique, method and cultural tradition, should also have the power of influence that is often considered important in all art; an expressiveness that can change the values of its audience. With this perspective as a starting point, I think that works of art should increasingly show a process, where sustainable themes are problematized during the creative process.
It then becomes crucial that these issues that arise in the face of sustainable issues are allowed to be true and untested. This is to take care of new development and change in the art subject.
Art students should become part of the art discourse, and need to develop skills to explore this themselves, create new traditions. They should be able to find new criteria and objectives that move us towards a more sustainable creative process, in accordance with rapid change competence. They need to be able to problematize the artistic methods, traditions and techniques that exist today, compared to sustainability.
I propose a visual model that hopefully can safeguard more of the UN's sustainability goals than "redesign" does in today's literature for art and design. The model implements several of the UN's goals, and better ensures that students reflect more on methods, techniques and material choices. This self-produced analytical model can hopefully be used for sustainable, critical reflections and further, relevant research in the production of a work of art.
HisGap is a pun on how sustainability was completely overlooked during the industrial revolution, mainly governed by a perspective where man is separated from nature. The model shows how we as part of nature, part of a larger system, should look towards a common future, and see ourselves as part of nature. The model does not show a conclusion or recipe for creative processes, but can help the user to construct their own methods for artistic processes and reflection, in order to maintain a sustainable perspective in their productions on their own.
The function of the model is to ensure critical reflections and assessments of one's own work, up to the UN's sustainability goals. It can be used by students, teachers, art critics and artists. Frequent use of the model can also help to internalize one's own thought processes and reflections on one's own or others' production in the light of sustainability issues. In this way, the model can also be a tool for art criticism.
Working methodically with this model does not necessarily mean that the user ends up with a physical work of art that complies with the UN's sustainability goals. It depends on how much experience the user has or wants to work purposefully with this. Nevertheless, the model will ask the user a number of issues that I believe are essential for mapping their own practice in a sustainable context. The model helps to establish a process where one reflects and evaluates one's own artistic work up against the interdisciplinary theme of sustainability.
Modellen How to Implement Sustainability Goals for Artistic Production codesignet av Sidsel Bonde.
The model proposes overall indicators with a value base in the UN's sustainability goals, which I myself consider relevant for artistic practice. The model refers to a more holistic sustainable perspective. HisGap can thus form a framework for observation, criticism, analysis and improvement. It can be adjusted by the person who will use it, according to the user's varying competence or wishes. With repeated use, the user will form a larger repertoire of methods for different, sustainable creation processes. The model enables artistic choices that meet a complex, methodical and comprehensive sustainability goal.
The model also shows how the relationships between the goals between means and message work.
The model's "globe", the largest circle on the left, suggests five possible themes or messages for a sustainable work of art based on the UN's sustainability goals. The themes are: energy use, social structures, economic structures (circular economy), environmental impacts and lastly reduction of CO2 and other environmental damage.
Based on these, an artist can choose indicators of sustainability for the work of art to be created and further ensure the quality of ideas, concept development, choice of materials and construction.
One can also start at the other end; look at the idea first, and then evaluate it against anything from one to several of all five sustainability goals.
Here I think it is important to emphasize that HisGap is not intended to represent the individual artist's methods or the order in these, but to function as a supplement to them. The model can put an artist above the problem of sustainability in their own practice, which will hopefully increase the critical reflection and contribute to better solutions in the long run. HisGap can also be used by art critics to evaluate works in a sustainable context, or by teachers who will create a sustainable teaching plan, as well as students during teaching or each other's assessment as a reference point that clarifies sustainability issues.
The model will stimulate issues and create questions about technique and method, so that students can map their own issues for sustainability in the present. In this way, they can be prepared to develop a self-adapted method for further research into their own processes. From this starting point, one can thus assess how one can best develop one's own ideas, experimentation and construction up to the indicators that tell the students if they are in line with their own sustainable goals.
The model stimulates key competencies for sustainability, such as systems thinking and collective development.
The model's intention is to clarify the user's own norms or practices by expanding the user's insight into what is required for integrated problem solving with the user's own objectives.
Several other industries have already come a long way in sustainability issues in the western world, it is necessary that artistic environments learn from these. It is necessary that artists move into a more unknown landscape, free from the traditions that have led us up to our time. We should therefore also prepare students for the importance of these elements in art. Art may look different in the future, if sustainability is to be implemented in the assessments of the works of art. This is despite the fact that the aesthetic duration of a work of art is sustainable in itself, as the lifespan of a work of art is far greater than in other productions.
If the model is implemented in art education, this will at least ensure a more holistic way of thinking about working to understand the interdisciplinary theme, sustainable development.
Through the model, the user is forced to reflect on the artistic concept, material choice, transport of materials, techniques, the desired expression and meaning of the work based on energy use, social structures, economic structures and environmental impacts as well as reduction of CO2 and other environmentally harmful impacts. (The five main indicators for sustainable art.) The use of the model will be able to develop both students and teachers and any others to evaluate works of art in a new, and more sustainable way. It is also perhaps possible that a similar evaluation of works of art in the future could change what we see as aesthetic, in the light of sustainability.
This model was tested in the workshop The Dreamwork, with prøverommet on the premises of Aldea - Center of Contemporary Art, Design and Technology in Bergen in 2021, in collaboration with The Arctic Agency You can hear a podcast from participants and curators here.
To read more about the project and the digital publication belonging to The Artic Agencies The Dreamwork, go to: https://thearcticagency.com/the-dreamwork/
This text is an excerpt. For the full text and complete bibliography, contact me by email.
Eisner, Elliot W. (2002) Arts and Creation of minds. (1.utg.) London, New
Haven. Yale University Press.
FN Sambandet. (2021, 19.04) FNs Bærekraftsmål. Hentet fra
Illeris, H. Näuman, R. Riis, K. (2020) Bærekraftsdidaktikk i kunst og Håndverk - Gjenbruke – Oppvinne – Skape. (1.utg.) Oslo. Cappelen Damm Akademisk.
UN Sustainable Developent Goals. (2021, 01.04) the Global SDG Indicators Database. Hentet fra https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/indicators/database/
Utdanningsdirektoratet. (2021) Kunst og visuelle verkemiddel
(KDA01‑02) Kompetansemål og vurdering. Hentet
Utdanningsdirektoratet. (2021) Overordna del; Bærekraftig utvikling. Hentet
Utdanningsdirektoratet. (2021) Tverrfaglege tema i Kunst og visuelle
virkemiddel (KDA 01 – 02). Hentet fra https://www.udir.no/lk20/kda01-
Winner, E, Sheridan, S, Hetland, L, Veenema, S, (2013) Studio thinking: The real benefits of visual arts education.(2.utg.) New York and London. Teachers College Press.