Traditionally, art, and visual art in particular, has often been a medium of activism.
Given this, it's curious that there has not been more art dedicated to the idea of preserving the planet. There has been some, yes. OK a lot. But nothing that has captured the imagination of more than a infinitely small fraction of the population.
Only a few artists whose work has had a planetary flavour have gained notoriety in the art world. Some of these have included Christos and Jeanne-Claude, who "wrapped" islands, among other things, and Canadian Gregory Colbert, whose "nomadic" photography exhibition Ashes and Snow opens this March in Tokyo after a high profile opening show in New York and several months on the Santa Monica Pier last year.
And there have been some others. Plenty worth mentioning even, but very few who have gained recognition in society at large. There are some outstanding exceptions. Among the most notable, is the German artist Joseph Beuys, whose work included planting 7,000 oaks for his epic exhibition Dokumenta 7 in 1982 and getting elected to the Bundestag as a member of the Green Party. Then again, ask your neighbours if they've heard of this guy, what he represented or what kind of art he did. (Beuwys passed away in 1986)
One could even say that the whole concept of the landscape, and other forms of portraying what we see around us, represent a current of art somewhere in the environmental genre. It is true, of course, but stretches the idea of activism beyond the range we could paddle our birch bark canoes.
The issues today are certainly different than they were in Beuys' time or, say, during the heyday of Greenpeace. The issues today today have adorned a more rational wardrobe, that of "sustainability", which is nevertheless up against it in the business and industrial mainstream. Interestingly, visual art is wedged into the same tiny economic space as environmental sustainability: the space of very desirable and well intended and appreciated ideals which are often considered commercially infeasible and unproductive in society at large.
So, is the best course of action to set out to prove viability or just say pi*s on it and take extreme actions to attract more attention? A little of both?