We are experiencing the greatest environmental crisis ever faced by man. According to the Global Environment Outlook, a report published by the UN in 2019, we are not meeting the various past treaties’ ecological objectives. He further states that, as progress towards achieving the goals has been slow, we have moved in the wrong direction.

Facing this scenario, we’ve also seen the most diverse sectors of society join forces searching for a more sustainable world - even art. Since the 1960s, several artists have joined an artistic movement known as Environmental Art. Its focus is to explore alternatives for the production and consumption of art that propose a new relationship between society and nature.

One of the most relevant aspects of this artistic movement is their belief that art pieces must transcend aesthetic or collectible aspects. These artists’ works often draw attention to urgent environmental issues and are part of the problems’ solution.

Art and sustainability, isn't it a perfect match? That's why we have prepared you a list of artworks that put this combination into practice. But before getting to know these projects better, let's explore some important concepts. Here we go!

Social sustainability: understanding the concept

The concept of social sustainability clarifies one of the main misconceptions about the kind of sustainability that we often talk about. When it comes to sustainability, we are talking about a set of three essential factors for building a balanced world: nature, economy, and society.

Therefore, social sustainability is a set of actions that aims to improve the population’s quality of life. It aims to reduce social inequalities and expand access to fundamental rights and services, such as education and health, for example.

Regardless of the specific sustainability concept we encounter, the objective is always to maintain harmony between preservation and development to guarantee the integrity of the planet, nature, and society over the generations. Therefore, the challenge has been to think about how each social segment can contribute to this search.

For example, industries can become more sustainable by investing in equipment that emits less waste into the environment, adapting production processes so that they use less energy and natural resources, and maintaining contact with the population that may be affected by their activities.

The educational sector also plays a crucial role in this process. Schools that support the dissemination of sustainability messages teach students at an earlier age about environmental issues and everyone’s importance in the process. It is also possible to encourage projects that enable students to take this message to their communities.

And finally, art. Historically, art has been a constant tool for activism. Artists from different eras used their gifts to point out relevant issues from their historical periods.

Concerning the environment, art has also played an even more active role. Check out some artistic movements that pointed out interesting ways to build sustainability.

How sustainability can become art

Since the birth of Environmental Art in the 1960s, we have seen the emergence of artistic movements that, combining Conceptual Art and activism elements, have brought new perspectives about man’s relationship with art and nature.

Eco-art, Land Art and Art in Nature call attention mainly for the selection of materials used in the composition of the artworks, the places where the pieces are displayed, how they are consumed, and the impact they can generate on our planet.

Eco-art, for example, takes into account that all human activity affects the world around. Therefore, it analyzes the long-term ecological effects of the artwork’s construction and exposure. Both the materials and the production process must be eco-friendly.

Many projects involve local restoration or seek to impact ecosystems or communities directly. This artistic practice aims to encourage affection and respect for nature and long-term structural changes. Thus it builds dialogues with other areas such as architecture, science, and education.

Land Art relates to the environment in a harmonious way and with immense respect for nature itself. Land Art uses natural spaces such as deserts, lakes, plantations, and canyons, as stages and raw materials for artworks. These great environmental architectures have an ephemeral character due to their integration with natural elements, such as wind, lightning, and rain.

The open-air exhibition and the ephemeral aspects of Land Art attract artists who seek to move their work from museums’ limits and galleries’ circuits. These works can only be exhibited using visual resources such as videos and photographs due to their characteristics.

Similar to land art, art in nature has an even more ephemeral character. These works are also displaced to nature and are built with organic materials found in the environment rearranged in geometric shapes.

The sculptures are usually made with leaves, flowers, branches, sand, stones focusing on creating objects or subtle changes in the landscape, highlighting geographical characteristics, or exploring the natural forms of the materials themselves.

Like land art, this type of work can only be exposed outside the natural environment through photographs. Therefore, to create a minimal impact on the environment in the pieces’ production, some artists claim that they return the objects to the place they found after the documentation.

Are you surprised at the number of ways to combine art and sustainability? How about seeing how these artistic movements put this relationship into practice now?

Art and sustainability in practice: discover 3 examples 

Now it's time to finally explore some works of art that have shown the powerful transformative aspect that art has in interacting with nature.

Pay particular attention to how each artist proposed integrating natural materials and spaces into their artwork’s composition. These choices carry relevant messages about sustainability and reconnection with the environment.

Spiral Jetty - Robert Smithson

Aiming to bring action and artistic experience to nature, Robert Smith became one of the leading representatives of the Land Art movement in the United States. One of his most famous pieces is "Spiral Jetty,” developed in 1970 on the coast of Great Lake, in Utah.

This spiral-shaped intervention, built with earth, constitutes an enormous archaic symbol in the landscape, questioning the typical division between cultural production and nature. With an ephemeral character, this sculpture was slowly submerged by the lake but later reemerged.

River stone - Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy is a famous British environmental artist and activist who takes inspiration from natural spaces and creates art from materials found nearby. Goldsworthy is recognized for his effort to make connections between man and nature.

Among his most famous works is the “River Stone” at Stanford University, made from the rubble left after the Loma Pietra earthquake. In Stone River, the stacked stones in the sculpture, set in a nearly 3 1/2-foot trough dug in the earth, rise from a 4-foot wide base to an almost impossibly precise undulating line.

While working on Stone River, Goldsworthy, famously recognized for his Art in Natura artwork, also created pieces with grasses and leaves just a few yards away from the sculpture.

Plastic Cups - Chris Jordan

Consumerism and the environment are recurring themes in Chris Jordan's artwork. Garbage is transformed into art in his photographs, either by assembling figures made from different chromatic patterns of waste, capturing different angles, or other creative ways of taking a new look at garbage, mass culture, and man’s relationship with the planet.

In “Plastic Cups,” one of his most famous works, the shapes revealed in the photographs, which resemble pipes, are made with plastic cups. According to Jordan, the image consists of one million plastic cups, the number used on commercial flights in the United States every six hours.


One of the main sustainability challenges is social engagement. Everyone must understand the relevance of their own role in building a more aware and responsible world.

Art is a crucial element in the construction of this awareness. Each work of art produced to draw attention to environmental issues becomes an inspiration for people to get more information, demand attitudes of large corporations, and identify new ways of relating to the environment daily.

Can you see now how art is a powerful social transformation tool? Here at Timelinefy, you can access other exciting content about history and culture that can collaborate a lot in your study about global issues. How about starting now?