Creative Works Project: Intro to Sustainability

I am not going to write too much about this piece, because below I will include the essay that was written a long with it.

It was also featured in the Aberrant Literary parade: http://theaberrantparade.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/tap-water-ad-by-andrea-jackson/

Photoshop, Tap Water Ad

Personal Reflection on Art and Intro to Sustainability

Art and sustainability are not by any means mutually exclusive, but when one attempts to define what either means to the other, a blank mind can come about. To outline the Arts relationship with sustainability, one first has to answer the question “What is art?” This, again, is a largely ambiguous question that has been heatedly debated for as long as art has been existent. With the endless possible interpretations, within the context of this essay I will define art as the formulation and manifestation of ideas through visual means. This could pertain to painting, drawing, video, sculpture, photography, design, or any other means by which visual representation of ideas are created.

So with “art” loosely defined, what does it have to do with a sustainable future? The answer is simply everything and anything. Artists are the dreamers, innovators, and visionaries who will bring forth the ideas that will help propel a sustainable movement forward. Creative thinking and solutions is the keystone to keep a sustainable structure together, for without them there is an understanding of a lot of problems, but no viable way to overcome them. This is not to say the artists are the end all, be all of where solutions could come from, but they are a significant population of people who are well equipped to innovate.

Beyond innovation, the representation of sustainable ideas in a visual manner is important for the general public to truly understand them. Visual language is the basic form of communication that we humans have utilized since prehistory, just look to any cave painting. It is much more emotional and connective for someone to see an image of one malnourished child, than hear that 15 million children die a year from starvation. More change and awareness within the general public could be potentially brought about with one photograph, than years of statics and data being compiled, graphed, and presented.

Even with this substantial power of innovation and persuasion, many artists seem to falter when it comes to integrating sustainable concepts into their work. Personally, I found this largely comes from the fact it is such a large concept to wrap one’s mind around. Since it has to do with everything everyone does on a daily basis, if one is truly devoted to such concepts, every day and every moment they must think about their actions. This is a daunting task for just daily mundane chores, but to also synthesize and comprehend these concepts and integrate them into one’s work, this is a process which would need outside influence and assistance generally. That thought is exactly what led me to enroll in Intro to Sustainability.

Even though I pursued sustainable ideas in my personal life, by attempting to garden, practicing informed consumerism, and utilizing alternative forms of transportation, I always felt like I was  moving nowhere fast in building any sort of solid sustainable foundation to live on, let alone incorporate the concepts into my artwork. Everything seemed like so much and no matter where I turned there was another obstacle to overcome. I kept thinking if this is so hard for me to accomplish, someone who feel passionately about such issues, no wonder the general public just doesn’t accept many changes suggested to them.

When enrolling in Introduction to Sustainability at the University of Iowa, I had no idea what to expect. I knew it was an engineering course, and that was intimidating, but I also knew it was designed to be multidisciplinary. For the first couple weeks, I was incredibly confused and overwhelmed with the topics being presented in class, and anxious of all the group work and amount of dialogue expected of us. Being one to generally work alone and have severe stage fright, this was almost a deal breaker – meaning I almost dropped the class. However, a voice in the back of my head told me to persevere, because I felt there was something important to be learned here. I can say now I am glad I did.

Through the course of the semester as we studied systems thinking to informed consumerism and -what I found incredibly boring at the time -sustainable business practices, I saw more and more how everything was connected. However, instead of being overwhelmed like I always have been before when I see these connections, the skills to process this information was infused with the lessons of sustainability. The most valuable thing I have taken from the class was not the concepts of sustainability – which I for the most part already understood – but the ability to wield the knowledge in an effective manner in my personal and professional life.

Since my professional life I am training for is in the arts, the creative works project was the moment for me to really assimilate all the skills collected over the semester in Introduction to Sustainability. The roots of this project started with the idea of fake advertising. There are many organizations that have fake advertising, notably Adbusters, and all do it well in their own right. However, one underlying theme I noticed with fake advertising is it bashes on existing advertising, thus creating an “us vs. them” mentality.  It raises anger and outrage in the viewer towards the existing adverts for large corporations, but it really does not focus the anger. Whenever I view the fake advertising presented by Adbusters I always am left feeling disillusioned and usually apathy will set in as a defense mechanism to keep me from getting completely depressed. This is ironic considering most of their fake adverts were designed to do exactly the opposite, to raise awareness and passion with its audience to change advertising, corporations, and the world.

I thought, instead of stirring anger in the viewer – which is something that I believe there needs to be considerably less of in this world – and putting blame on the advertising and media for the current status of the world, why not just use the same techniques in advertising to promote sustainable ideas. I knew I wanted to do something with tap water from the start, because of the prevalence of bottled water and soft drinks replacing just a plain old glass of water. The environmental effects of all that plastic usage for packaging, manufacturing, and shipping of the product is considerable when compared to just drinking tap water. Tap water is also a fairly modern convenience that everyone, including myself, takes for granted.

As to the overall theme and feel of the piece, I instinctively went to 1950’s era cola ads. I feel in the history of advertising, this is the time when materialism really started to take hold in the American culture. Iconic of this to me was soda ads, because they were literally selling sugared water, something that is absolutely not needed by anyone. The advertisers of this time were unabashed in their approach to advertising, and used any means necessary to ingrain a message into the consumers head. Copying this root of modern advertising, but directing in a message of sustainability seemed like a more productive and positive route to take.

After researching old ads and deciding on the layout, I had to come up with content. An insight a friend of mine shared in a conversation about this topic helped significantly direct this piece, “You don’t change people’s mind with facts, you change it with beauty.” It was so simple, emphasis the beauty. Not only how beautiful, but how sexy drinking plain old water can be. In modern advertising, sexual overtones are used to sell items all the time, and it works. It was the perfect synthesis of old and new advertising ideals.

The creation of the piece took about 25-30 hours of digital painting total in Adobe Photoshop. I will be submitting it to a literary journal, but I have already had a couple requests for prints to be made for people to hang in there apartments or dorms. This has inspired me to create more ads like this, because not only is the painting process enjoyable as always for me, the end product is more positive and has more potential to influence for the greater well-being of all. After viewing the piece, not only do I hope people feel like drinking a nice cool glass of tap water and feel beautiful while doing it, but also maybe think and dialogue about their actions just a little bit. I also hope this is a more welcoming message for the general public; instead of anger or hatred towards an established system, it is a more subtle tongue and cheek way to show how silly everything can be sometimes.

This piece relates to course content because it is promoting a sustainable idea, drinking tap water as an alternative to bottled water or soda. As stated before, the environmental impact bottled water and soda consumption is significant, and curbing of this over consumption of convenience goods is crucial to a more sustainable future. It relates also to the media portion of our class, and how media does affect people’s perceptions. This is directly using tactics used by soda companies to sell something that is opposes the message they wished to propagate.

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