Archive for June, 2021

Exploring Biosphere Sustainability with Arts Reasoning

Friday, June 18th, 2021

“Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is, humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions. (…). This virtue, one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they are extended to all sentient beings”. Charles Darwin, 1871.

1  Thinking with STEAM 

Fig 1 STEAM: the educational  integration of arts and science thinking

In the global education system ‘STEM’ represents science, technology, engineering and maths. “STEAM” represents ‘STEM’ plus the arts; i.e. painting, architecture, sculpture, literature, music, performing and cinema (Fig 1).  The arts teach creative means of reasoning such as expression of feelings, the understanding of different human perspectives, and an awareness of knowledge and emotions throughout the human social experience.  They also shape and share perceptions of the environment through artistic creation and practices. In particular, it is through the integration of arts with science thinking that sustainability as, an educational concept, enables people to envision and enact sustainable alternatives at their local level of the biosphere.  Therefore, integration of art and science is necessary to obtain the whole picture of world development because arts reasoning is typically an invitation to imagine ‘what if’?, whereas science reasoning alone gathers information about ‘what is’. Moving from what is? to what if? requires a bridge of self-learning to manage change for sustainability in the context of the cross curricular area of environmental humanities.

While there is no evidence that training in visual arts improves verbal or mathematical academic skills, correlational studies reveal that students who study the visual arts are stronger in geometrical reasoning than students who do not study the visual arts. Geometric reasoning is the use of critical thinking, logical argument and spatial reasoning to solve problems and find new relationships between data and knowledge. It facilitates students who wish to develop a personal, coherent body of knowledge and apply their reasoning skills to solve real life problems.  One experimental study found that learning to look closely at works of visual art seems to improve skills in observing and understanding scientific images – a typical instance of close skill transfer. 

Evidence of any impact of arts learning on creativity and critical thinking, or on behavioural and social skills, remains largely inconclusive, partly because of an insufficient volume of experimental research and also because of the difficulty in adequately measuring these skills  Researchers need to build stronger theoretical frameworks on why and how arts education can be hypothesised to develop certain skills, which then combine with other academic subjects. The first step is to develop a clear understanding of the kinds of skills developed by different forms of arts education, and then to determine whether these skills are specific to the arts or may also spill over to other fields. This blog references some of these skills e.g. scientific illustration,  education for empathy, art and sustainability, science in art, creativity, biospheric perception and cultural happiness.  As in other fields of education, it is also important to study how different ways of teaching the arts, particularly self-learning, foster different mixes of skills. 

2 Scientific illustration

Scientific illustrators represent aspects of science visually, particularly observations of the natural world. The emphasis in scientific illustration is on accuracy and utility, rather than on aesthetics, although scientific illustrators are skilled artists and often known for their aesthetic values (Fig 2). Scientific illustration was an indispensible part of scientific communication prior to photography. Since the development of photography, scientific illustration is particularly useful for selective renderings rather than lifelike accuracy. Examples are illustrations of stellar phenomena that are not visible to the human eye; or medical illustrations, which highlight particular parts of a complex physiological system.

Fig 2 Drawing of the head anatomy of a goat 

Captain James Cook’s voyages of exploration to the Pacific between 1768 and 1780 were the first of the great European voyages of discovery to carry professional artists with the role of making a scientific input.  Cook’s final voyages are of particular interest for their descriptions of the Pacific Northwest of America as well as Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. The book ‘The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages’ produced by Rüdiger Joppien and Bernard Smith in the 1980s defined the ways in which scientists made use of art to document and support their findings in a remarkable conjunction of scientific curiosity and aesthetic vision.  In the 1940s Bernard Smith had started his research by examining the instructions given to navigators on far voyages, and the degree to which the artists taken on such voyages succeeded in carrying them out. He concluded that as far as the documentation of plants, and the provision of coastal profiles as aids to navigation were concerned, the artists did succeed in providing the scientists with what they desired; faithful records of nature (Fig 3).

Fig 3 A Joseph Bank’s watercolour drawing, one of several hundred plants new to science discovered on Cook’s voyages. 

Am English botanical artist, collector and photographer Anna Atkins was the first person to illustrate a scientific book with photographic images.  Her nineteenth-century ‘cyanotypes’ used light exposure and a simple chemical process to create impressively detailed blueprints of botanical specimens, particularly marine algae (Fig 4). Atkins self-published her detailed and meticulous botanical images using the cyanotype photographic process in her 1843 book, ‘Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions’. With a limited number of copies, it was the first book ever to be printed and illustrated by photography. Two decades earlier Atkins’ first artistic undertaking had been to assist her father by hand-drawing more than 200 scientifically accurate illustrations for his translation of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s Genera of Shells, published in 1823 (Fig 5).

Fig 4 Example of one of Anna Atkins’ cyanotype photographs 

Fig 5 One of Anna Atkins’ illustration for Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s ‘Genera of Shells’: 1823

Worthington George Smith was one of many late 19th century UK artists with an interest in natural history and gardening who gradually developed a reputation as a botanical illustrator (Fig 6). His work appeared in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and in 1869 he became its chief illustrator, retaining this position for the next 40 years.  He also contributed illustrations to the Journal of Horticulture and other periodicals. In 1880, he co-authored Illustrations of the British Flora with the noted botanical illustrator Walter Hood Fitch.

Fig 6 Penstemons: Worthington George Smith.

Penstemons are one of the most abundant native wildflower species. There are over 250 species in North America, the greatest percentage of these are native to the American West.  They are highly praised by gardeners.  A comparison of  Worthington George Smith’s watercolour with a modern digital image  promoting plant sales (Fig 7) emphasises Smith’s artistic style and his larger than life  aesthetic bias.  

Fig 7 Digital photograph of three penstemon varieties

3  Education for empathy

The main justification for arts education is clearly the acquisition of artistic skills.  This is the current priority objective of arts education in the curricula of OECD countries. By artistic skills is meant not only the technical skills developed in different arts forms (playing an instrument, composing a piece, dancing, choreographing, painting and drawing, acting, etc.) but also the habits of mind and behaviour that are developed in the arts. 

Arts education matters because people trained in the arts play a significant role in the innovation process in OECD countries: teaching the arts should undoubtedly be one key dimension of a country’s innovation strategy. Ultimately, however, the arts are an essential part of human heritage and of what makes us human.  It is difficult to imagine a future education for better lives without an arts input.

Ultimately, even though there is some evidence of the impact of arts education on skills outside of the arts, the impact of arts education on other non-arts skills and on innovation in the labour market, is not necessarily the most important justification for arts education in today’s curricula. The arts have been in existence since the earliest humans.  They are parts of all cultures, and are a major domain of human experience, just like science, technology, mathematics, and humanities. In that respect, they are important in their own rights for education. Students who gain mastery in an art form may discover their life’s work or their life’s passion. But for all learners, the arts allow a different way of understanding than the sciences and other academic subjects. Because they are an arena without right and wrong answers, they free students to explore and experiment. They are also a place to introspect and find personal meaning.

In all dimensions of life it is time to acknowledge the intimate connectivity of humans to one another, and to the ecosystem as a whole. Arts reasoning is used for an individual to obtain a formulation of knowledge practical, productive, and theoretical of the part of the biosphere where they live, which can then be presented in the form of an artwork.  That is to say, art makes the invisible visible by the artist developing their personal notions about nature, for example in relation to sustainability.  Viewers in turn respond to these presentations in a personal way, thereby formulating their own explanation of sustainability and how they want to empathise with it.  In this connection, everything is dependent on that which came before, and everything is derived from things already there, so modern art history should be told through threads of continuity rather than tales of revolution and discovery.

Regarding the viewer’s empathy with the artist’s message, it can be overwhelming or nuanced. A giant sculpture of world leaders attending the 2021 G7 Summit appeared in Cornwall coinciding with the meeting.  The artwork was inspired by Mount Rushmore, the famous monument in America which depicts four iconic powerful presidents.  But while the US version was built in granite, this version – on display near Hayle Towans beach – is made from a mountain of discarded electronics and shows the cartoon faces of political leaders attending the Summit 2021. Its message is very clear from the title, ‘Mount Recycle: More’ (Fig 8)  A photographic image of a drowned fledgeling albatross carries a more subtle story of an environmental armageddon (Fig 9).

Fig 8 Mount Recycle More

Of 4,000 albatross autopsies by scientists in New Zealand nearly half had been killed by trawlers, The birds carried wounds of scraped away skin and feathers with exposed bones, caused by the steel wires that pull the trawl nets. Large seabirds such as albatrosses tend to be injured as a result of collisions with the wires while smaller birds are caught in nets and crushed or drowned.

Fig 9 A drowned Albatross

4 Art and sustainability

Art works remind us of our love of nature and wildlife. they enhance our respect and our empathic relationship with the natural world. They bring people together around an environmental cause.  Humanity is called on today to change many things, but most of all our understanding of the world we live in, our place in it, and our relationship to it and to one another.  To make this connection creativity and sustainability are closely linked. The aim of art for sustainability is to encourage people to make concerted efforts towards building an inclusive and resilient future for the planet.The UN’s Agenda 2030 with its 17 sustainability goals sets out the economic, social and environmental dimensions of a sustainable world. There are five areas of human behaviour that provide an educational platform to adopt the 2030 sustainability targets and they are, ” curiosity, creativity, taking initiative, multi-disciplinary thinking, and empathy

Cultural ecology defines the relationship between the use of environmental resources to make artifacts to support the establishment of social interactions in a material culture. Material culture is a term developed in the late 19th and early 20th century.  It refers to the relationship between artifacts and sociality.  A material culture is the outcome of the behaviour of people who make or build things from natural resources.  Humankind has a powerful proclivity to fashion everyday objects that are socially and culturally dependent.  Examples of artifacts fashioned in this way include clothes, magazines, newspapers, records, CDs, computer games, books, cars, houses and works of art.  Studying a culture’s relationship to materiality is a lens through which social and cultural attitudes to consumerism can be discussed.  In this plethora of innovation, the Pandemic has exposed a multitude of hidden threats to human wellbeing, which have challenged prevailing notions of security, laid bare the inadequacy of partial theories and siloed disciplines, revealing the limitations of narrowly framed top down sectoral policies and strategies.  The policies and strategies have to be implemented by specialized subjects and agencies.  They highlight fundamental questions regarding the complex, interconnected nature of the social reality on which our understanding of the world and ourselves is based.

A view of cultural production as a symbolic system with adaptive functions, varying from place to place, led anthropologists to conceive of different cultures having distinct patterns of enduring conventional sets of meaning.  Anthropologists distinguish between material culture and symbolic culture, not only because each reflects different kinds of human activity, but also because they constitute different kinds of data and require different methodologies to study them.  This view of culture, which came to dominate anthropology in the 1920s, implied that each culture was bounded and had to be understood as a whole, on its own terms. The result is a belief in cultural relativism, which suggests that there are no ‘better’ or ‘worse’ cultures, just different cultures.  The two main domains of high culture, the arts and the sciences, seem to be completely different, simply unrelated. Is there any sense then in talking about culture in the singular as a unity? A positive answer to this question presupposes that there is a single conceptual scheme.  Within such a scheme it should be possible to articulate both the underlying similarities and the basic differences between these domains.

Mitchell Thomashow’s book, ‘Bringing the biosphere home’ shows how to make global environmental problems more tangible, so that they become an integral part of everyday awareness. At its core is a simple assumption: that the best way to learn to perceive the biosphere is to pay close attention to our immediate surroundings. Through local natural history observations, imagination, memory and spiritual contemplation, we develop a place-based environmental view that can be expanded to encompass the greater biosphere, interweaving global change science, personal narrative, and commentary on a wide range of scientific and literary artifacts  In particular it provides many ideas for learning how to practice biospheric perception.  Biospheric perception is key to making a work of art that has a bearing on sustainability.  

5 Biospheric perception

The idea of biospheric perception is the theme of a collection of paintings in the Thyssen- Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, each of which has been conceived as a fragment of the biosphere to encourage wider and deeper thinking about planetary sustainability.  The works were selected based on aesthetic-experience criteria interrelating art and sustainable development.  The pictures have been brought together to be reinterpreted within a framework under which empathy with environment and sustainability may be generated. These works are not to be considered environmental art but masterpieces of art in place and time, allowing links between cultural production, society and sustainable development to be considered from a historical point of view.  The desire to achieve sustainable development is, just like producing art, inherent to human nature. An awareness that future generations will inherit the planet we leave them and of the need to act accordingly is exactly what has driven artists through time to leave a record of their world behind.  So, those born in the future can become better acquainted with the artists’ experiences, surroundings and stories and, indeed, learn about them as individuals.

Visitors to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection are able to take a tour through the museum’s permanent collections, stopping off at a number of works showing, from an aesthetic perspective, the relationship between art and the three pillars of sustainable development: the environment, society and the economy.  From Claudio de Lorena to Natalia Goncharova or from Vincent Van Gogh to Romare Beardmoveen, visitors are guided through the different styles defining the periods embodied by the artists.  The pictures show natural scenes, urban landscapes, the consequences of industrialisation, human consumption of resources and ethnic issues. Visitors are guided on a unique journey helping them to understand how the world has developed while enjoying the work of some of the most important painters of the last 500 years.  Such works reflect the protection of natural landscapes, the growth of cities, the consequences of industrialization, the emergence of women in a male dominated world and the use of resources and reuse of waste. Twelve of these pictures have been packaged as an online experience consisting of  a pdf version  and an interactive slide show.  International Classrooms On Line is developing the theme of biocentric perception as a mind map.

As one of the twelve, Mark Tobey’s painting Earth Rhythms represents the guiding theme of human population growth (Fig 10).   Earth Rhythms is painted in earthy tones, with light touches of red, blue and purplish threading their way through a number of floating white calligraphic lines that create Tobey’s personal spatial representation of the cosmos beyond the biosphere. Tobey’s guiding theme is the swarming movement of crowds on city streets.  This meditative study of ever-expanding nature goes beyond a traditional western contemplation and penetrates into biological rhythms. His feelings are centred in the aftermath of the armed conflicts that destroyed the Enlightenment values of modern Europe.  North America painting of the second half of the 20th century removed the contradictions of reality from its content and came back to abstraction in order to focus on the expression of the existential distress of the human condition. In a metaphorical sense, the universality of his themes turns this painting into an excuse to talk about the urgency of listening to the earth’s rhythms and respecting the limits of the planet in order to guarantee the the needs of future generations. 

Fig 10 Earth Rhythms Mark Tobey

A nomadic and cosmopolitan artist, Mark Tobey pioneered Abstract Expressionism in the United States.

4 Science in art

Verb: to fashion

Gerund or present participle: fashioning

  1. make into a particular form.
    “the bottles were fashioned from green glass”
  2. Use materials to produce (something).
    “the skins were fashioned into boots and shoes”
  3. Similar:

Construct; build; manufacture; make; create; fabricate; contrive; cast; frame; shape; form; mould; sculpt; forge; hew; carve; whittle; hammer; chisel;construct.

Ecology is a conceptual unifying scheme which deals with the interactions and relationships between artifacts, people and their environment.  In her Pocket Guide to Fashion Ecology, Kate Fletcher presents a topological map for ‘garment-related activities’ and ‘place’, which she devised using scientific concepts taken from biological classification.  

Here is Fletcher’s definition of a species.

A species is a clearly identifiable group, type or practice of textile and garment-related activity, e.g. cardigans, sales shopping, laundering techniques. Individual members of a species occurring in one place often look slightly different from individuals of the same species elsewhere, called ‘varieties’

Fletcher chose the fashioning of garments to exemplify a culture of making, but her definition of species can be applied to any cultural artifact, such as a work of art.  In other words, artists and scientists can come together with the same cross-cultural perspective.

Here are some more of her definitions.


A habitat is where a dress practice, garment type, colour palette, mending technique or fabric construction unfolds; i.e. its address. Each species of fashion activity needs particular conditions in order for it to survive. Its habitat is the source of these conditions.


A niche is how a species or type of fashion activity lives. It is the lifestyle or group of strategies employed by a fashion actor or practice to access the skills, resources, knowledge, styles and mythologies it needs in order to flourish.


An ecosystem is a community of dress types, garment structures and styles, fibre categories or ways of using clothes interacting as a system. These components are regarded as linked together through energy flows and the cycling of the basic elements necessary for fashion provision and expression. There is some exchange of fashion activity between ecosystems, but it is much slower than the exchange inside them. Fashion ecosystems behave in ways that cannot be predicted from knowing about their parts. Thus fashion ecologists hold the whole and explore patterns in complex webs of relationships.


An area of a place or garment differing from its surroundings is a patch. It is often the smallest distinct feature of a fashion ecosystem. Fashion ecologists are interested in how the elements that characterise patches, such as their physical form and where they are sited, affect ecological processes associated with garments, e.g. how long a piece lasts, where it is worn, how it looks, how it is valued.


Corridors are narrow patches that may act as links or barriers to a heterogeneous fashion ecosystem. Functionally important structures to an ecosystem, corridors influence the dispersal of material assets, skills and creativity in the surroundings and thus affect the persistence of a diverse set of fashion activities and processes. Things as varied as powerful business interests, preconceived ideas or celebrity endorsements of consumer culture might form barriers to conceiving of a range of other (shy? less agile? feral?) alternative fashion experiences.

Keystone Species 

A keystone species has a disproportionately large effect on its surroundings relative to its size. It plays a unique and crucial role in the way other, surrounding species function. It might be a sewing machine repair mechanic or a Mackintosh computer. Without it, other fashion species would be different or cease to exist altogether.


In the ecological world of fashion interactions, organisms – like wardrobes or brands – only grow until they reach mature size, i.e. the size that enables them to successfully occupy their niche. Few organisms expand indefinitely. To thrive in a niche, appropriate size counts, as does the flow of energy and the physical circulation of fibre, fabric and garment around the organism. Here the system develops qualitatively without an increase in quantitative size.


Extinction is the elimination of a species and with it its unique configuration code and conditions responsible for producing it. The loss of one species affects all, making for a poorer total fashion system. When one type of fashion activity or practice is in trouble, generally the whole ecosystem needs protection.

5 The creative process

Kwame Dawes, is Distinguished Poet who defines the creative process in making a work of art as a succession of thoughts and actions leading to original and ‘appropriate’ productions. He describes the creative process at two levels: a macro level, featuring all the stages of the creative process, and a micro level, which explains the mechanisms underlying the creative process itself, e.g., divergent thinking or convergent thinking. Dawes says he writes…. “in what is probably a vain effort to somehow control the world in which I live, recreating it in a manner that satisfies my sense of what the world should look like and be like”.  He tries to capture in the language of art the things that he sees and feels, as a way of recording their beauty and power and terror, so that he can return to those things and relive them. In that way, he is trying to have some sense of control in a chaotic world.  “I want to somehow communicate my sense of the world—that way of understanding, engaging, experiencing the world—to somebody else. I want them to be transported into the world that I have created with language”.

So the ultimate aim is to create an environment of empathy, where a person can seem to rise out of themselves and extend themselves into others and live within others. That has a tremendous power for the mind.

I am a tornado child

         born in the whirl of clouds; the center crumbled,

         then I came. My lovers know the blast of my chaotic giving;

         they tremble at the whip of my supple thighs;

         you cross me at your peril, I swallow light

         when the warm of anger lashes me into a spin,

         the pine trees bend to me swept in my gyrations

The main creative purpose of Dawes’ poetic abstraction is not to tell a story, but to encourage involvement and imagination. This art form is mostly about providing its viewers with an intangible and emotional experience – more often than not, the experience is completely different for every individual depending on their personality and state of mind.

Strictly speaking, the word abstract means to separate or withdraw something from something else.  Abstract painting is considered one of the purest forms of expression, as it allows its creator to freely communicate visually without the constraint of forms found in objective reality.  Arshile Gorky’s viewpoint is that abstraction allows us to see with our mind what we cannot see physically with our eyes.  “… Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.

The change, or abstraction, takes place in the mind of the artist and is communicated as a unique social artefact through the work of art.  However, the  drivers of innovation are future-oriented, consumer-centric manufacturers or retailers who run digital and agile operations at all levels.  They focus on customer data, use advanced analytics to make faster and better decisions, and win and retain digital talent. In their internal organization.  They use agile methods to react quickly to changing requirements and to pick up on trends early on. Take the production of cushions for example.

Cushions are widespread artifacts of creativity bound up with consumerism, where there are markets to satisfy rich and poor alike, making them symbols of capitalism in action and a good focus for research into the relationship between art-artifacts and sociality. Nowadays, throw or scatter cushions are everyday objects, used to bring colour and comfort to the home with a hundred fold price range set by the materials and skills used in mass/craft production and the extent to which an artist/designer is involved in their marketing.  Within the home decoration and home textiles sector, cushion covers fall under the home textiles category. A cushion cover is a fabric case that covers a cushion, like a pillowcase does. Cushion covers function primarily as decoration, providing a relatively inexpensive way for consumers to express personal styles of decorations in living rooms and bedrooms. Interactive cushions are now available to carry unambiguous text messages.  Smart interactive cushions integrate computer technology and sensors into the textile component to create interactive objects such as music cushions.

But cushions started as true luxury items, available only to the wealthiest.  The earliest known is circa 7,000 BC, in the early civilizations of Mesopotamia.  Cushions were related to status – the more you owned the more affluent you were seen to be. In a time of discomfort for the majority, to be comfortable was to be prosperous. Although no cushions survive from this period, we are able to ascertain their style and use from ancient wall art.  As dyes and fabrics were very expensive, cushions became individual pieces of art that represented the taste and wealth of the owner.

Cushions from the Egyptian period are best known for being wooden or stone headrests.  In this way, they are closer to the meaning of the word ‘pillow’ which derives from the latin word ‘pulvinus’.  ‘Pulvinus’ shares its etymology with the word ‘pulpit’ – the raised standing platform in churches.   This is, essentially, what pillows or cushions were to the Egyptians – raised platforms for the head. Most famously, these hard cushions have been found in the tombs of Egypt, supporting the heads of mummies.

In Europe, the tradition of cushion and pillow usage derived from the classical Greek and Roman usage.  These cultures, having taken a long hard look at the wooden cushions of Egyptian times and the fact they mostly seemed to support the head of dead people, decided that something more comfortable was in order.  Stuffing their cushions with straw, feathers and reeds, they created cushions akin to those we still use today.  They had large cushions for reclining on smaller cushions for chairs and cushions for sleeping.  Just like the Egyptians, they still placed cushions under the heads of the dead.

The transfer of the idea of the cushion from a fashion accessory to describe a plant form is an example of parallel or convergent evolution of shape/form, a scientific idea that emerged in the early development of plant ecology.  Species from many different plant families on different continents converged on the same evolutionary adaptations to endure harsh environmental conditions (Fig 11). Cushion plants grow very slowly and evenly. They grow rosettes of leaves all at once so that no one part of the plant is more exposed than others. The flowers are small and often massed closely nestled in the leaves for protection.  A cushion plant is compact, low-growing, with large and deep tap roots.  They have life histories adapted to slow growth in a nutrient-poor environment with delayed reproductivity and reproductive cycle adaptations. 

Fig 11 Silene acaulis (Moss campion)

Cushion plants became home fashion accessories for embellishing gardens with the craze to assemble cushion plants in stone troughs.  Modern rock gardens  are generally considered to have evolved from the landscape grottoes of the 17th and 18th centuries. The first rock garden constructed specifically for the growing of alpine cushion plants was probably created in 1774 for the Chelsea Physic Garden.

7 Cultural happiness

“The British Royal Academy mounted three exhibitions in 2017, Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932 , opened 11th February, America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, opened 25th February and Mattise in the Studio, opened 5th August.  The first presented joyful views of the construction of Stalin’s utopia.  The second was set in the time of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 with the collapse of international capitalism and the third presented a man’s dreams of sensual wellbeing and harmony, encapsulated in the title of Matisse’s first great imaginary composition, Luxe, Calme et Volupté (Luxury, Calm and Delight, 1904) – no workers, no dispossessed, no technology, just nudes, bright colours and a beautiful seaside setting”.

All three stories are relevant to tackling the global environmental crisis facing humankind today.  For the critic Nicholas Watkins, looking back over the modern period, we have every reason to think that “people have been motivated more by aspirations to happiness, personal fulfilment and pleasure than by political directives, five-year plans or invocations to national greatness”.  In this respect ‘The Joy of Life’ (fig 12) is the key work in Matisse’s creativity. In it are seen for the first time many of the poses and figure groups he was to explore over the next few years in drawings, sculptures and paintings: the reclining nude, the standing nude, the crouching nude, the twin standing nudes and the ring of dancers treading out a dance on the beach by the sea in the sheer pleasure of just being.  Can we attain this economy in the new decarbonised world of well being for 2030?  Carol Graham of the Brookings Institute says to find the answer we have to reconsider our benchmarks of progress and think deeply about the extent to which we value creative opportunities and achievements, and how much we should emphasise things such as health, leisure, and friendships over productivity and longer working hours.

Fig 12 Henri Matisse, The Joy of Life (1905).

Matisse’s thinking about well being caused his imagination to turn this (Fig 13):  

Fig 13  Matisse and his model 

Into this (Fig 14);

Fig 14 Odalisque in yellow robe: 1937

Which is more memorable?  Matisse’s dedication to articulating the inner spirituality of femalekind and nature led to a fusion of style and content that resulted in dramatic, imaginative, rhythmic, and emotional canvases that convey far more than the mere appearance of the subject.  Matisse’s works are really visual puzzles that manifest the dialectic between physical objects and pictoriality.  They refer to the “constitutive character of symbolic renderings in the making of ‘experience’.  His works are expressions of sexual dimorphism, where sexual attraction is the basis of seeing, imaging, and picturing.   Lips half open with limbs positioned to entice, the female figures of Henri Matisse’s odalisque paintings exude an undiminished sensuality. Anther interpretation is that Matisse’s picture is a powerful example of visuality, which tells a story of female sexual slavery and subjugation in modern art.  This goes to show picture making is an example of Immanuel Kant’s contention that human thought needs images.  When we speak of “visuality” rather than vision, we address the difference introduced into seeing by the cultural meanings of the time consolidated as images. In visuality, seeing becomes “viewing.” In visuality, one does not see the world; rather, one sees an image of the world, so the arts can offer important contributions to the challenge of engaging and learning about the drivers of social changes. That is to say, art has multiple potentials that can be harnessed for engaging with big social issues such as climate change education.  Pictures really do have a capacity to engage emotions and imagine the future to create hope, responsibility and care, as well as healing. With respect to all of this, art is a powerful form of cross-curricular communication; it can integrate diverse knowledge through experiential learning and it can engage young people in deeper, embodied, and potentially transformative ways with the subject. 

6  Internet References

Matisse’s Studio

Learning about climate change with art

Revisioning the Pacific

Art and Sustainability

Art and Sustainability 2

Art and Sustainability 3

Merging the Arts and Sciences

Paul Cezanne: List of Works

Belonging to the Biosphere

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

1 The biosphere

Fig 1  Different parts of planet Earth

The biosphere is made up of parts of Earth where life exists i.e. it includes all the planet’s ecosystems. The biosphere extends from the deepest root systems of trees, to the dark environments of ocean trenches, to lush rainforests, high mountaintops, and transition zones where ocean and terrestrial ecosystems meet.  The presence of living organisms of any type defines the biosphere.  Humans are an integral part of the biosphere, and human activities have important impacts on it.  The burning of fossil fuels and the growth of animal agriculture has led to the accumulation of large amounts of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the biosphere causing global warming. In turn, global warming drives climate instability.  Some of the changes humans have brought to the biosphere are extremely dangerous, such as the atmospheric build-up of carbon dioxide, and pollution of fresh and salt waters, soil and air. 

Earth’s atmosphere is wafer thin when compared with the size of the planet, with about 50% of the atmospheric mass existing in a layer which extends less than 6km out from the surface. The rest of the atmosphere stretches up to about 680km, but  gets progressively thinner as it gets further from Earth’s surface. The distance from the Earth’s core to the outer reaches of the atmosphere is 6,550km. All animal and plant life exists in a layer at most 30km thick.  This a comparatively small amount of space within which humankind has developed a diversity of cultural, socio-economic and political characteristics. Nevertheless, people wherever and however they live also have similar and specific problems that can be addressed in a common way.The ‘Man and the Biosphere’ programme  (MAB) is an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for enhancing the relationship between people and their environments. It combines the natural and social sciences with a view to improving human livelihoods and safeguarding natural and managed ecosystems.  Thus, MAB provides an international educational setting to promote innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable.  The  MAB programme was formally launched in 1971 as an intergovernmental scientific initiative to improve the relationship between people and their environment, by proposing interdisciplinary research, education and  professional training in natural resources management.  Over the years it has developed a learning platform based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals, which is a collection of 17 interlinked targets designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.  The SDGs were set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030. They are included in a UN Resolution called the 2030 Agenda or what is colloquially known as Agenda 2030. The SDGs were developed in the Post-2015 Development Agenda as the future global development framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, which ended in 2015.

No matter how it is expanded, the major pillar of cultural ecology is the biosphere and humankind’s interactions within it.  We belong to the biosphere and everything we do has an impact upon it.  Being but one product of its evolution and are absolutely dependent upon it for day to day survival.  

All cultures, especially those in the transition zones of small islands and narrow coastal strips, are highly vulnerable to climate change, the impacts of which cause poverty, natural disasters, depopulation, loss of traditional culture and the detrimental effect of invasive species. These changes alter the balance of marine and terrestrial island ecosystems and cause irreversible loss of biodiversity.  This is why communities in transition zones make good educational models for understanding how to live sustainably. 

Established in 2012, the World Network of Island and Coastal Biosphere Reserves aims to study, implement and disseminate island and coastal strategies to preserve biodiversity and heritage, promote sustainable development, and adapt to and mitigate the transition effects of climate change. Its two technical headquarters coordinate the network and work together at the global level: the office in the island of Jeju (Republic of Korea) focuses on climate change issues while the other in Menorca (Spain) specializes in sustainable development. This network is formed by the representatives of twenty islands and coastal biosphere reserves around the world and is open to all islands and coastal biosphere reserves that want to join it.  The World Biosphere Network is a potential vehicle for organising an educational democracy to implement the 2030 International agenda for sustainability.  This was the target of the young people who wrote a young person’s Agenda 21 arising from the 1992 Environment Summit.

2 The pedagogy

Fig 2 Knowledge silos

Odi Selomane, co-author of ‘Agenda 2030 Through the Complexity Lens’, says the major challenges currently facing the world, including persistent poverty, rising inequalities, biodiversity loss, and climate change, are increasingly recognized as the emergent outcomes of social and ecological interactions.  Classical learning ‘ologies’, are not suitable to handle this cross curricular complexity.  They are isolated information silos designed by examination boards for teachers to feed facts into passive learners, turning them into narrow specialists.  Silo learning is not suitable for understanding how to define, study and manage world development where the aim of education is to answer the question, How does an individual make a place in the world?.  

Actually, there are numerous opportunities for learners to build their own body of cross disciplinary knowledge as a mindset for living sustainably.  The central cross-curricular theme in education for sustainable living is cultural ecology which, as a knowledge framework, can be structured in many different ways by individuals as personal statements of how they see the cultural relationship between themselves and  the environment.  Therefore the pedagogy linking humankind with the biosphere entails the use of digital mind mapping apps with the intent of enhancing the use of mapping in both personal and collaborative settings. In this context, a mind map is a graphical learning tool that allows users to create and share visual representations of things like lectures, notes, and Internet research; in fact, assembling a representation of the individual’s mindset. The purpose is to establish an educational environment where learners can determine their own goals, learning paths, processes, and products. The learner is at the center of the learning process, rather than the teacher or the curriculum.  This has been labelled as heutagogical oriented learning.  The purpose is to establish an environment where learners can determine their own goals, learning paths, processes, and products. 

Learning is a lifelong progression.  As a process it should stretch and challenge the more able and talented learners and enable them to progress along the continuum of learning at a pace appropriate to them.  Instilling learners with passion and pride in themselves, their communities and their country is a central goal.  Learners should be grounded in an understanding of the identities, landscapes and histories that come together to form their homeland. This will allow them to develop a strong sense of their own identity and well-being, and develop an understanding of others’ identities and make connections with people, places and histories elsewhere and across the world. 

3  Progression

Fig 3 Educational progression by self directed learning

As learners progress as individuals assembling their own body of knowledge, they should become increasingly effective. This includes increasingly successful approaches to self-evaluation, identification of their next steps in learning and more effective means of self-regulation. In particular;

  • they become increasingly able to seek appropriate support and to identify sources of that support. 
  • they ask more sophisticated questions and find and evaluate answers from a range of sources.
  • they become increasingly effective at learning in a social and work-related context.  

A number of conceptual models of progression exist. The following prescription summarises the process as it is visualised in a new curriculum for Wales. 

No single model has been employed in the creation of the descriptions of learning. Instead, teachers should be mindful of a variety of ways in which learners may progress at different points in the learning journey, and over different lengths of time, as they help students to create and develop their personal curriculum.  Progression in learning is seen as a process of increasing sophistication, rather than covering a growing body of content. Progression is individual to each learner. It requires space for diversion, reinforcement and reflection as a learner’s thinking develops over time to new levels.   Learners should be able to set goals, make decisions and monitor interim results. They should be able to reflect and adapt, as well as manage time, people and resources. They should be able to check for accuracy and be able to create different types of value.

The development of these skills allows learners to work across disciplines, providing them with opportunities for both synthesis and analysis. There is particular potential for innovation in making and using connections between different disciplines and areas.  The role of the teacher is to support learners to develop as ambitious, capable learners who:

  • set themselves high standards and seek and enjoy challenge
  • are building up a body of knowledge and have the skills to connect and apply that knowledge in different contexts
  • are questioning and enjoy solving problems
  • can communicate effectively in different forms and settings, using both Welsh and English
  • can explain the ideas and concepts they are learning about
  • can use number effectively in different contexts
  • understand how to interpret data and apply mathematical concepts
  • use digital technologies creatively to communicate, find and analyse information
  • undertake research and evaluate critically what they find and are ready to learn throughout their lives to:
  • develop an appreciation of sustainable development and the challenges facing humanity
  • develop awareness of emerging technological advances
  • be supported and challenged so that they are prepared to confidently meet the demands of working in uncertain situations, as changing local, national and global contexts result in new challenges and opportunities for success
  • be afforded the space to generate creative ideas and to critically evaluate alternatives – in an ever-changing world, flexibility and the ability to develop more ideas will enable learners to consider a wider range of alternative solutions when things change
  • build their resilience and develop strategies which will help them manage their well-being – they should be encountering experiences where they can respond positively in the face of challenge, uncertainty or failure
  • learn to work effectively with others, valuing the different contributions they and others make – they should also begin to recognise the limitations of their own work and those of others as they build an understanding of how different people play different roles within a team.

4  Mind mapping

Fig 4 Advantages of mind mapping in self directed learning

Mind mapping software is a set of graphical tools for organizing and representing a body of knowledge.  It is a collection of concepts  arising from a central idea, usually enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and relationships between concepts and the central idea indicated by a connecting line linking two concepts.  The mind map represents a body of knowledge a learner is exploring.  The non-linear process of creating a mind map makes it an ideal medium for numerous creative activities that link branches of knowledge in new ways. Mind maps are especially useful to explore new concepts, record and take notes, reflect on one’s thought processes, communicate ideas quickly and collaboratively with others, and look for patterns when synthesizing information from existing knowledge frameworks.   Because mind maps reflect the structure of their author’s thought process on a given subject at a particular time, they are useful for creatively filling in “gaps” in a map as well as understanding the author’s holistic conception of a new problem domain.  Most importantly, others can interact with a map by adding branches or rearranging the entire structure.  Supporting real-time collaboration, facilitating pervasive storage of information, and affording dynamic content presentation are all features of digital mind maps that significantly improve the use of such systems to assemble a personal body of knowledge. 

To support real-time collaboration, International Classrooms Online (ICOL) is testing three web applications, Google Blogger, MindMeister and GoConqr, that provide instant feedback of user contributions and allows individuals and groups to contribute and provide feedback on mind maps more easily. The proposition is that digital mind mapping systems enable a dynamic browsing experience for the user, providing a summary of a knowledge system’s most important points and an adaptive layout that supports the user’s browsing intent.  ICOL’s goal is to build and evaluate a working implementation of the digital mind mapping experience to expand the possibilities of real-time networking of collaborative thinking about living sustainably and conservation management. The objective is to encourage the production of customized, digital versions of Agenda 2030, using online data and information about UNESCO’s Man and the Environment Programme.  

Fig 5  Mind map of ‘belonging to the biosphere

Go to the interactive version

5  Rescue Mission: Planet Earth

The starting point for ICOLs initiative is the book entitled Rescue Mission Planet Earth, an educational outcome of the Earth Summit, held in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, which was the largest meeting of world leaders ever.  Together these leaders created a document called AGENDA 21, a voluntary blueprint for saving Planet Earth.

Thousands of young people from nearly 100 countries worked together in an extraordinary effort to find out exactly what was agreed in this important document.  The highlight was the speech by 12 year old Severn Cullis-Suzuki, “Listen to the Children”.  At age 9, she founded the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO), a group of children dedicated to learning and teaching other youngsters about environmental issues.  In 1992, at age 12, Cullis-Suzuki raised money with members of ECO to attend the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Along with group members Michelle Quigg, Vanessa Suttie, and Morgan Geisler, Cullis-Suzuki presented environmental issues from a youth perspective at the summit.

Rescue Mission: Planet Earth was designed, written and illustrated by young people to inspire children all over the world to join the rescue mission “to save our planet, our only home”.

Here is an extract from the foreword written by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, then Secretary-General, United Nations.

“I sincerely hope that this book will help children from all countries better to understand and appreciate this fragile world in which we live and to  dedicate themselves to do everything possible to protect and enhance this Earth”.

On International Earth Day, 1996 the United Nations Environment Program published ‘Taking Action: An environmental Guide for You and Your Family. and ‘Rescue Mission Planet Wales’ was launched’.  This in turn promoted The Schools and Community Agenda 21 Network (SCAN) sponsored by The Countryside Council for Wales, Dyfed County Council and Texaco. 

SCAN is now being promoted by the National Museum of Wales as a network of schools dedicated to recording climate change through the timing of flowering of spring bulbs.

Further developments of rescue mission involving young people are:

1  The publication of Climate Change: Take Action Now, by UNICEF was aimed at getting young people involved with climate change, with the following introduction;

The environment is precious and we should protect it like a mother hen protects its chicks. We should prevent deforestation, find solutions through actions that will prevent air pollution, and promote awareness to the people, particularly young people, who are tomorrow’s future.” Sarah Baikame, age 17, Cameroon

2  The establishment of the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) was mandated in 2012 by the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), “The Future We Want”. The format and organizational aspects of the Forum are outlined in General Assembly resolution 67/290.

3   The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development is the central UN platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on 25 September 2015.

6 Internet References

Digital mind mapping

Agenda 2030

Heutagogy Explained

Taking Action 1

Taking Action 2

Biosphere: Encyclopedia of Earth