Artists and Copenhagen / by Jeannine Cook

As I listen to the complex issues and concerns that the thousands of climate change delegates are grappling with at the on-going Copenhagen Conference, I keep thinking of all the art that has been done over the past centuries that is, in essence, a record of the world as we have known it.

From John James Audubon, with his masterful opus recording America's bird life, to the myriad wonderful botanical artists working today, like Australian Margaret Saul, or wildlife artists like British David Shepherd or American Timothy David Mayhew, there is an important role for art in the discourse on our planet's health. Photography has become the vivid adjunct to this discussion. Each of us artists who dedicates many hours to recording and celebrating aspects of our natural world, on land, under water or in the air, is a witness to the complex, vital web of life that sustains us. In reality, this vast body of artwork about the natural world is an urgent sub-text to the Copenhagen debates. If mankind chooses to continue jeopardising the survival of countless species, then the records of artists will be a beautiful but very sad testimony to what is being lost,

Every time I do a silverpoint drawing of a fragile spring flower, for instance, I find myself wondering how many more springs will be graced so predictably with these flowers. I am sure that Audubon would be appalled to know the status of many of the birds he depicted. I suspect that David Shepherd finds the East African flora and fauna he celebrated so wonderfully in the 1960s, for instance, to be sadly changed and diminished. When artists of all descriptions find themselves recording endangered species and reminding their viewers of vanishing beauty and complexity, it is a situation of sounding the tocsin.

I hope that the politicians gathered in Copenhagen are art lovers.