Jo Anna Isaak, Ph.D., the John L. Marion Chair in Art History, Painting and Sculpture, will use her faculty fellowship to complete her book, Greening of the Avant-Garde.
The volume will trace the development of the environmental movement in art from the period of modernism—when art was being accused of aesthetic solipsism—to the current engagement of artists in the ecological reform movement.
“I’m concentrating on artists who are trying to work with the environment in one way or another,” Isaak said. “Sometimes it just means going to exhibitions of their work, but sometimes it’s actually going to site-specific places. It can be something as un-exotic as a landfill.”
The suggestion that art could become useful again—that it may, in fact, be in the process of being reintegrated into everyday life, and that artists may be necessary for our successful stewardship of the environment—may be the most radical of modernism’s avant-garde gestures, Isaak said.
“It’s an interesting thing to realize that we created this myth about artists that they’re separate from the rest of us, that they are somehow out of the loop of the real concerns of daily life. I think that’s a disservice to artists,” Isaak said.
“Much more in the last 15 years, many more artists have rejected that ‘art-for-art’s sake’ status and started exploring ways in which they can engage in real social issues, or they may have just been provoked to engage in real social issues by accident.”
Isaak has gotten her students involved in the art and environmental reform. This past March, two of her classes helped curate And for all this, nature is never spent, an exhibit of environmentally themed art at the Pelham Art Center.