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Art Inspired by Climate Change Data

Last week about 20 students stood next to small, blank canvases placed on tables. They were about to pour paint of various colors onto the canvases as part of a unique approach to understanding climate change.

The students were in their weekly Natural Disasters class taught by Professor Abdou Bah at City Tech in Brooklyn to learn about the science and physics behind a variety of weather conditions due to global warming. Students chose an image they had written about to serve as a catalyst for their painting. Some used infrared images from an outdoor heat urban island lab exercise investigating local land surface temperatures, others used pictures of droughts, floods, wild fires or statistical data.

Applying very fluid paint to a blank canvas to extend one’s understanding of global warming is a new learning approach known as ‘Paint-Pours,’ developed by artist Kate Doyle, known for her highly creative visual environments based on climate change. During the class Doyle guided students as they contemplated how to recreate exacting scientific data from charts, graphs and photographs by using the free-flowing medium of paint while considering climate research and events. Their challenge was to take abstract, empirical information and transform it to a tangible work of art using personal perception, instinct and imagination in this surprising new way to contemplate climate change.

Working from an infrared image of land surface temperatures, one student found it challenging to control how she replicated certain patterns in the image. (see below)

“But I could control the direction they flowed in. Somehow [it was] like we can’t control specific catastrophic disasters that result from climate change, but we could change its direction by taking action in mitigating it.”






Another student wrote about deforestation caused by logging and escalating industrial agriculture, threatening both the stability of climate and global health, destroying natural habitats that force wildlife to come into closer contact with people, increasing the risk of zoonotic disease transmission and pandemics. While painting, this student considered how many forests had burned this year and how many lives and ecosystems were lost due wildfires, claiming he “just let my hand flow.”

The overall result of the paint-pours was a wide range of expressive, individual gestures from broad and abstract to finite and detailed. Students were able to visually express complex ideas — ideas that gave color, shape and texture to climate impacts on agriculture, cities and ecosystems in a way that sharpened their thinking and furthered the expression of learned information. Through playful exploration, the art they created had complemented the science. As viewers of these paintings we are drawn to the nitty gritty impacts of climate change where art becomes a springboard to the science and vice versa.

This project was organized by the ClimateYou Alliance and could not have happened without the support of the City Tech Foundation and a grant from ConEd.

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