When landscape artist Thomas Cole visited the White Mountains in 1839, he sketched the telling signs of encroachment on the wilderness. But his final painting employed a bit of 19th-century photoshopping, dialing up the rich forests and blurring the signs of human habitation.
That painting was featured in a major exhibition at the Princeton University Art Museum, “Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment,” which brought together more than 120 pieces of American art to tell the story of ecological change in North America over 300 years. In this video, exhibit co-curator Karl Kusserow gave an overview of how that consciousness changed from Thomas Cole to today’s artists.
Art has the power to help us understand the environment — to take scientific data and turn it into “emotional data,” said environmental humanist Rob Nixon. He was one of four experts who participated in a panel discussion, framing their environmental research in the context of artworks from the exhibit.
Paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, videos and works of decorative art addressed how artists in America have interpreted the environment from the era of exploration and colonialism through U.S. nationhood and expansion to the growing awareness of profound human impact on a global scale.