Art History, Theory and Practice for an Ecological Emergency

Andrew Patrizio, Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh,
Lucy Whelan, Durham University,

How can we align art theory, history and practice with an ontology that refuses to see human life as fundamentally set apart from nature? Art historians have recently started to respond to global environmental concerns with eco-critical approaches. Yet, with the effects of abrupt climate breakdown already apparent, art history can afford neither to repeat the theoretical debates over the representation of nature explored in literary studies since the 1990s, nor to conceive the ecological as a transitory ‘turn’ or an additional category of analysis. Instead, a global existential crisis demands a wholescale rethinking of how art historians and practitioners write, curate, make and teach. This interdisciplinary session builds on recent work across the environmental humanities, in moving towards an integrated ecological art history that is oriented towards the future, even as it examines the past. Key questions we will explore include:

  • How might the reality of environmental breakdown provoke us to rethink our traditional aesthetic categories?
  • How might artworks enable their beholder to imagine more-than-human ways of seeing?
  • How do different artistic media offer crucial sites for thinking in, and with, the environment?
  • While some museums have recently divested from fossil fuels, how can art institutions go further in resisting norms that are damaging the planet?


Fish Against the System: Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison’s Portable Fish Farm (1971)
Francesca Curtis (University of York)

The Work of Art in the Age of Ecological Exposability
Lucy Steeds (University of the Arts London)

Realism in Fragments: Wang Youshen’s and Birdhead’s urban ecological mosaics
William Schaefer (Durham University)

Material Communities: Living ‘with’ the landscapes of the Anglo-Scottish borderland
Ysanne Holt (University of Northumbria)

Landscape Representation and the Sublime in the age of Anthropocene
Olga Smith (University of Warwick)