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Sustainability in the visual arts

"The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them." ~ Paul Hawken

The thorny issue of sustainability is of fundamental importance across the visual arts as designers, makers and artists seek to adopt more environmentally friendly practices. Discover the practical solutions and ethical approaches employed by practitioners in order to meet the challenges of creating a more sustainable, circular economy across disciplines.

Dining-room group in yellow, black and white, designed by Hayes Marshall for Fortnum & Mason Ltd., London', 1937

Landscape activism – the art of change

The types of activism that come to mind when considering ways to provoke action and tackle sustainability issues may not immediately include landscape art. Social, environmental and political activist pieces which use or engage with the landscape can however be some of the most powerful catalysts for inspiring critical thought and connection with the environment. Explore evocative examples of land art, and the fine line between pastiche and the profound.

A woman passes circles in a circle by russian painter Wassily Kandinsky on the wall of barbican centre

Sustainable interiors – making space for the future

How do we make best use of existing space? ‘Reduce/Reuse/Recycle’ is especially relevant to interior architecture, as the reuse of an existing buildings to accommodate new use constitutes a very sustainable approach. Find out more about confronting the overall lifecycle of a building and explore fascinating examples of sustainable adaptation, reuse, and green design as well as the practical processes which underpin them.

Colorful sunrise on a foggy day over Tipperary mountains and fields

The ‘S’ Word – beyond fabric bags!

When it comes to balancing human progress and environmental needs globally, the importance of nuanced, measurable models of sustainability cannot be underestimated. While on a more local level, the simplification of sustainability down to more digestible, single-issue concepts - such as reducing carrier bag usage - can cause individual complacency and even distract us from seeing the bigger picture. Read more about sustainable development; from the three pillars of sustainability to why we might be overusing the ‘S’ word.

Full Rainbow of Paint Color Chart Fan Deck

Implementing sustainable practices and the role of the designer

Combining professional success in the design world with ethical beliefs can seem daunting when beginning your career. Breaking up the process into practical steps can be helpful for creating sustainable, low-impact practices in the workplace and within freelance work with clients. Take a closer look at frameworks and methodologies for adopting sustainable practices.

Actress/model Qin Lan and actor/designer Leo Ku Kui-Kei walk the runway during the Solo Celeb. & HTDG show on day five of Shanghai Fashion Week 2019 A/W

Landscape photography: powerful tool or aestheticization of issues?

Photography can arguably help people to visualise our changing physical landscape and understand the urgency of the environmental crisis - from the famous ‘Earthrise’ image taken from lunar orbit in 1968 which evoked Earth’s fragility, to the photographers exploring rising sea levels due to global warming. Explore photography’s potential to generate meaningful awareness but also to aestheticize the issues, so that the collective sense of urgency is eroded.

Actress/model Qin Lan and actor/designer Leo Ku Kui-Kei walk the runway during the Solo Celeb. & HTDG show on day five of Shanghai Fashion Week 2019 A/W

The life cycle of a garment – sustainability for all seasons

Stella McCartney is known as one of the most ethically aware designers in fashion, incorporating sustainable principles into her use of materials and her business as a whole. She has also been a key figure in opening up a wider debate around sustainability in the design industry. Find out more about ways to apply sustainable strategies to each stage of a garment’s life cycle.

Images above are courtesy of Getty Images.

Finding Inspiration

“Where do you get your ideas?” It’s a question that haunts anyone working in the creative industries, as artists, designers and makers look for that spark of inspiration that will bring their work to life. Explore some of the answers creative practitioners have given to that perennial question.

Many different goods like typical Indian spices and curries are presented in bags for sale at the weekly flea-market.


Visual artists often look outside of their own discipline for ideas. Developing a Fashion Collection explores how fashion designers use historical, cultural, and environmental movements as inspiration for their collections. In Art History for Filmmakers you can see how directors like Martin Scorsese and Peter Greenaway have borrowed the visual language of composition, colour and lighting from artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt to help their storytelling. Similarly, Creating Interior Atmosphere shows how the staging techniques of theatre and cinema can add drama to even the most humble real-world interior design.

A view of Fiji water bottles during the 2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards on February 27, 2016 in Santa Monica, California.

Creative Thinking

If the creative muse doesn’t strike when it’s needed, then designers and artists fall back on the creative thinking techniques discussed in Gavin Ambrose’s Design Genius. In Making Photographs Mike Simmons shares techniques for producing original, meaningful photography by actively engaging with the creative process. And, of course, inspiration isn’t the exclusive domain of artists and their quest for self-expression – it’s also vitally important to every commercial brand on the planet. In Brand-Driven Innovation you’ll learn how to balance strategy and structure alongside creative visionary ideation and imagination.

Images above are courtesy of Getty Images.