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Art is powerful. Unlike science, which devotes itself to the refinement of analytical understanding, art has the capacity to go beyond hypothesis and fact to reveal something closer to emotional truth. Art can both explain the world around us, and inspire people to care about it.

For social scientists, this smudged boundary between intellectual analysis and emotional impact is familiar territory. Alternatives has long embraced it, seeking to blend science with art in the stories we run and the images that accompany them. For the past four years, we have dedicated an annual issue to Ecobooks, and we delved deeper into artistic exploration with last year’s Music issue.

But there is more to environmental art than books and songs. It encompasses everything from sculpture and dance to street theatre and photography. That is why Alternatives has expanded its annual books issue to showcase a wider variety of artistic endeavours. Thanks to the support of the Ontario Arts Council, you are holding our richest arts-focused issue yet.

In it, we feature some of 2011’s best books, and we also ask what nature writing tells us about ourselves. Jeff Gailus, himself a respected author, investigates his home library and discovers illuminating differences – and some intriguing similarities – between nature writing in Canada and the US.

Picking up where he left off with 2007’s The Geography of Hope, sustainability spark plug Chris Turner shares an excerpt from his recently released third book, The Leap, which tells the remarkable story of how Melbourne, Australia, was rejuvenated by Copenhaganization.

Canada’s pre-eminent naturalist painter Robert Bateman contemplates the real value of natural art in a gadget-obsessed society. After 50 years of painstakingly depicting animals and plants both common and rare, Bateman worries that youth are losing their ability to really connect with – and to really care about – the world around them. He’s not alone though: Teenaged photography contest winner Quinn Dalgarno looks around at his schoolmates and worries about exactly the same thing.

The printing industry gets a double analysis: Canopy founder Nicole Rycroft talks to Anna Bowen about the practical implications of environmentally friendly printing, while ecologist Roger Suffling analyzes his weekend newspapers to quantify how much all of that lovely white design space is costing the Earth.

This issue also features provocative and compelling visual art by the likes of Iain Baxter&, Broken City Lab, Cory Trépanier, Greg Euclide, Ed Schleimer and the late Robert Smithson.

Finally, we invited five performance artists to discuss the role of dance and music in exploring modern environmental issues. As we discovered, “ecoart” is a beautiful and nuanced field, especially if you’re based near the tar sands. Nature, the artists point out, is much more than a backdrop, and the art that comes from it is much more than a decoration.

Art is bound entirely with the world in which it is created, so on some level, all art is ecoart. Which is fitting, really: The Earth is stunningly beautiful, complex and challenging. Great art can only strive to have the same impact.

Tenille Bonoguore is a former managing editor for Alternatives Journal. She grew up Down Under singing “Rip Rip Woodchip” by John Williamson.



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