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Ecological Icons

by Greg Bryant

We need art that reminds us of what nature really is, and what our relationship to it needs to be. That is radical, in the face of all that tries to destroy our ecological sensitivity.

So, a practical question for environmental activists: what kinds of artifacts are effective in reminding people of such things? 

One way to approach an answer, is to look for successful reminders of gentle things, subjects that are nuanced, interesting, beautiful, touching ... but which don't exploit human attraction to spectacle, shocking stimuli, or fear.

One good example is the traditional icon. 

If you remove the religious content, an icon is a kind of vessel or perhaps a window for entering another world. Many paintings have this window quality, but icons have a tradition of focused story-telling, reminding the viewer of everything that factors into this particular world. 

It's quite good for memory. At a recent show of Olga Volchkova's botanical saints, one woman expressed to me that she remembered the native western columbine because of this icon:

Western Columbine as a saint