The Art of Wildlife Conservation

Updated: Mar 19

Art can draw people into the depths of an issue. The time it takes to absorb the beauty of artwork can be a moment of calm or contemplation. Often it is both, but the latter takes on particular importance when it comes to wildlife conservation. Whether it’s a collection of painstakingly taken photographs, intricate paintings or the drawings of curious young people, for many, artwork and wildlife protection has a beautiful and important connection.

Sockstar is lucky to have the backing and following of Alicia van den Abeele and Emily Lamb. These stunningly talented artists are deeply committed to the raising of awareness and funds for issues in the expansive world of conservation matters as well as to creating intricately skilful works. It has been my pleasure to speak to them over the course of this blog’s writing and explore their personal take on questions of art in conservation.

Communication is key - channelling a call to action into a piece of art can transform the reception it receives. It’s like the saying goes: ‘Show, don’t tell’. When we consider the fragility of so many species and habitats, it only takes a moment to realise that these are issues that deserve every ounce of attention they can get. Artists and their creations constitute a vital pillar of the messaging of crises and challenges. As passionate and talented artists work to distil the real lives of wild or endangered species, they often create a silver-bullet in terms of awareness and outreach.

This is particularly powerful when such artwork appears in our busy social media feeds! Our digital existence is saturated with creators and companies, people and posts all vying for our attention and it’s all too easy to read a comment or a headline, know the weight of its importance, and scroll by regardless. Emily Lamb has recently shared the completion of a year-long campaign in which she succinctly describes, “each day was a simple commitment to 30 minutes of painting and sinking deep to create something that I could sell for wildlife conservation”. As a follower of Emily’s work (and her social media accounts!), her vibrant portrayals of people, animals and nature never fail to stop me mid-scroll. When social feeds are infused with these bursts of beauty and we are compelled to explore the purpose of projects and the meanings of pieces, the experience of being online begins to feel much more uplifting.

Emily’s mammoth 365-day project is also a prime example of how vital funding for conservation and environmental projects so often stem from the sales or auction of artwork. On fundraising, 100% of the profits of Alicia van den Abeele’s limited edition print, Guardians of Wildlife’ were given directly to Sockstar! Alicia has spoken about just how delighted she has been by the reception to the piece received. The beautiful painting of five wildlife rangers sold out in remarkably little time. This February, Sockstar was fortunate to collaborate with Emily and Armstrong Safaris in the sale of a limited series of 20 stunning prints titled ‘Eden’ and received a generous donation of £100 for every print sold. Wonderfully, this was another quick sell-out!

Deepening the conversation, Alicia points towards a daring side of artistic work: the field of ‘artivism’. This describes the implementation of art as a form of activism to seize the attention of viewers and emphasise the absolute necessity of change. Increasingly, using art to explicitly expose brutality and suffering is, as Alicia puts it, “a rising theme”. Much discussion circulates on exactly how wildlife is presented in art. The core question sounding something like, ‘if we only ever see the beauty of animals in art, will we forget about vulnerability and suffering?’. This is a consideration that needs attending to beyond the spheres of artistic work and with regards to broader questions of the fine line between sparking engagement with or alienation to conservation and environmental matters.

These debates are complex and incredibly weighted. Related questions arise in the making of campaign strategy, public messaging, educational work and in countless other fields. To use or not to use so-called ‘shock tactics’? Is it better to first enthral a viewer in the beauty of nature and later explain its peril, or to waste no time in conveying brutal realities? These are not questions to which a single answer fits every circumstance nor ones that I will have space to dig much more deeply into, in this particular blog. What I would say is that there will always be a vital need for beautiful artwork, but too, challenging artwork.

Alicia points to the need for balance in this respect and explains the power of delicate and intricate artwork to ground viewers and creators alike. This really resonated with me. Alicia describes how the process allows her to express her own connection to nature and how pleasantly surprised she has been by the breadth of her audience and just how interested people really are in the work she does. It is in addition to the positive impact of viewing and investing in conservation artwork, that we must also realise what is unlocked when we invite others to explore an issue through creativity as well.

Making as well as viewing artwork can play a pivotal role in raising awareness in matters of conservation. Charles Emogor is a University of Cambridge PhD student with a focus on ecology and sociology. He has been prolongedly dedicated to protecting the numerous and gorgeous species of pangolin that live across the world and has done so, in part, by sharing the Twitter hashtag #artforpangolins. The call for anyone and everyone to explore this unique creature, of which there are 8 sub-species, using artwork of any kind is central to the conservation efforts of @pangolino_org. The work shared spans all ages and abilities and exemplifies just how dynamic the relation between art and conservation can be as a catalyst of imagination, inclusion and engagement. The freedom to use unlimited amounts of imagination as part of calls like art for pangolins brings another key thought to the surface. Incorporating art into education on the challenges our planet faces and who stands on the frontlines of its protection is evidently immensely powerful.

Encouraging young people to express their feelings, understandings and uncertainties via art creates a space in which a love for nature can develop alongside a formidable urge to defend it. For myself, exploring art formed the crux of how I seek to articulate broader issues, that is (I hope) creatively, inquisitively and openly. Many much younger children find art to be more easily accessible than lengthy explanations of why they ought to care about something. Creating a piece in response to an issue is empowering and productive. It is an activity that holds within it the potential to instil a long lasting curiosity and compassion in young people who deserve to better understand the state of nature.

There is such a lot to say about the relationship between art and conservation, the questions it sparks and the opportunities embedded within it. Understanding how much more there is to discuss, I’ll leave you with the following thought:

Let’s not take art, its beauty and power, for granted. There’s something about seeing the world through artistic creations of all kinds which remind us, with such clarity, why we must fight so hard to protect it.

To see more of the featured artists:

Alicia van den Abeele: @vdartworks

Emily Lamb: @emilylamb_art

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