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A Green Art Manifesto

Brendan Smith

Quietly, over the last decade, a new green arts movement has begun to take shape.

We see ourselves representing a revival of the 1930's arts and crafts movement, and like those dedicated artists before us, we create functional art -- clothing, furniture, clocks -- that is handcrafted and affordable. You've seen us on the streets and farmers markets of New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta, selling our dresses sewn from recycled umbrellas and clocks milled from reclaimed wine tanks. What was our predecessors' Depression Art is now our Recession Art.

As green artists we regard the rarefied "high" arts as long lost to the hollow galleries of commerce targeting only elites. We find diminishing inspiration in painting, photography, sculpture, installations, and their likes; for our generation, these precious efforts withered and died decades ago in the cold embrace of the art industrial complex.

From the ashes of the old, our generation feels a fresh breeze animating our green arts movement. We seek to blur the lines between craft and modern art, building pieces on the conceptual foundations of modernism -- process, performance, and politics -- while consciously limiting ourselves to sustainable, organic and recycled materials.

We believe green art must be deliberately interactive and communal. For too long art has been sterilized by museums, galleries and universities. What we forge in our studios is not where art ends and commerce begins, but instead, is the budding of an ecosystem of interactivity between the art, the artist and the people. For our desire is to cross the divide between artist and community. Our art is visual, intellectual, and social. Green art is not the inert object we produce, but rather the interaction sparked by the object -- the discussions, ideas, new ways of seeing and thinking, the social exchange and connectivity.

To nurture interactivity we choose only to sell outside on the streets and in the parks, where we animate what we make; craft narratives around our pieces to be carried back to people's homes, people's lives. Our art is buttressed by the history of our recycled materials; by the sparks of conversations with customers; by supporters returning week after week to talk, to share, and carry home our work. As green artists, we fashion our art -- and our lives -- to counter modern ailments of alienation, loneliness, and fear.

Our art is political. We refuse to destroy the planet to make a living. We salvage our materials, often for free. We sell only what we make with our own hands. As green artists we refuse to wholesale or outsource production to global sweatshops to meet demand. We reject the cult of individual artistic genius. Our art is collaborative and crowd-sourced, drawing ideas from both conversations with non-artists on the street and our green peers. Through a decade of experimentation we have discovered that beauty emerges from collaboration, not vulgar individualism.

We are where we want to be: we don't dream of riches or selling in galleries -- for us, to survive selling our interactive green art and living free, self-directed lives rooted in community is the definition of "making it" as a green artist.

And we are more than a mere community of artists. We envision ourselves as members of a growing public sphere and cultural economy supporting those that grow or make what they sell. We are a generation of organic farmers, cooks, and beekeepers; we are bike mechanics and green carpenters; we are musicians, journalists and poets; we are environmental and social justice activists; we are artists.

We are bound by the simple desire to make the world a better and more beautiful place.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Brendan Smith

Brendan Smith

Brendan Smith is an oysterman and green labor activist.  He is co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability and Global Labor Strategies, and a consulting partner with the Progressive Technology Project. He has worked previously for Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — both as campaign director and staff on the U.S. House Banking Committee — as well as a broad range of trade unions, grassroots groups and progressive politicians. He is a graduate of Cornell Law School.

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