Learning from Nature (blog post #2)

Learning from Nature
By Steven Kenny

Treelady, 1999, oil on panel, 25 x 16 inches


The Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage the planet. It’s hard fully to comprehend the suffering caused by the spread of this virus and my heart breaks for all those who have died, lost loved ones, or are being devastated financially. I consider myself and my family blessed.

When I step back and look at the whole picture, this sad phenomenon has special significance for me as an artist. For over 30 years my artistic intention has been to illustrate through my paintings our connection to Nature. In part, my artist statement reads,

… we are an integral part of the natural world and subject to its laws. This seems like an obvious statement until we step back and objectively assess our symbiotic relationship with each other and the Earth. Depending on your perspective, these relationships fall somewhere on the scale between harmonious and dysfunctional.

There are many in the scientific community who were predicting that this event would happen and explained in detail exactly how it would unfold. Those individuals have spent their careers studying epidemiology — the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases. These scientists understand this aspect of how Nature works.

Understandably, those of us who are not epidemiologists tend to be skeptical when the alarm bells begin to ring. We have convinced ourselves that humans are in control and have the wisdom and means to keep the spread of the virus at bay.

However, it is our own machinations that help the virus to spread as quickly as it has. Ease of travel — by car, plane, boat, etc — set us up for this disaster. If we are truly as smart as we think we are — and had heeded the warnings — we would have put mechanisms in place to address an outbreak like this.

Nature is simply doing what it has always done and will continue to do. Over the eons, humans have adopted a degree of self-righteousness in our relationship with Nature. We try again and again to dominate the Natural world around us so that we can live in ways that suit our desires. I’m not the first to make the analogy to humans being a type of cancer on the Earth. It may sound a bit extreme but the similarity between human global destructive activity and the workings of a pandemic are undeniable.

I can’t say if my artistic practice is having a significant impact for the better. If it did, how long would that influence endure? That can’t be my concern. If I dwell on how much good my work is having in the world I freeze in my tracks. I do what I do because I’m passionate about it and believe in my message. That’s all I can do and that’s every artist’s mission.


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