Navigating an Artful Path in a Time of Crisis

I’ve been thinking and learning a lot recently, its been an intense few weeks since I started better informing myself about Climate Breakdown. A recent article (one of many) which I read on the subject (The Terror of Climate Change is Transforming Young People’s Identity) struck a chord with me:

‘The strikes represent more than frustration and resistance. They are evidence of an even bigger process of transformation… young people’s sense of self, identity, and existence is being fundamentally altered by climate change.’

Blanche Verlie

The article describes the effects of a cognitive dissonance experienced by young people, as they continue to function as part of a society continuing with business as usual, whilst climate science tells us we need to act quickly if we are to keep the effects of climate breakdown to levels that enable our lives on earth to continue.

Sketchbook Collage


As Verlie continues:

Confronting the realities of climate change can lead to overwhelming anxiety and grief, and of course, for those of us in high carbon societies, guilt. This can be extremely uncomfortable. These feelings arise partly because climate change challenges our dominant cultural narratives, assumptions and values, and thus, our sense of self and identity. Climate change challenges the beliefs that:

  • humans are, or can be, separate from the non-human world
  • individual humans have significant control over the world and their lives
  • if you work hard, you will have a bright future
  • your elected representatives care about you
  • adults generally have children’s best interests at heart and can or will act in accordance with that
  • if you want to be a “good person” you as an individual can simply choose to act ethically.

Faced with these challenges, it can seem easier in the short term to turn away than to try to respond. But the short term is not an option for young people.

I feel this myself in my daily life, I read the articles and reports and I act to spread awareness, and still I’m caught in the web of a society that moves forwards with a growth mindset, that revels in our ability to seal ourselves off from the rest of the natural world, safe in a perceptual bubble… but for how long? Research shows we need to make big changes and fast, and in my head and heart I know its true, but around me, day to day, I’ve seen very little evidence of anyone taking the situation seriously.

I went along to support the Salisbury School Strike last week. My son is already very anxious about the future, and as well as for myself and the planet, I wanted to be there for him. He’s seven, and not ready yet to take part himself.

The scale of the School Strikes world wide certainly gave me a boost, it felt (at least when looking at social media) that the urgency of the climate crisis had finally broken through into mainstream awareness, although listening to the radio and watching the TV later that day, you’d be forgiven for not knowing that over 1.5 million young people had striked and marched for their futures that day, in over 100 countries around the world.

I wrote in a previous post  Climate Breakdown, Art and Me, that I had realised that I was already doing what I needed to do, ‘Not in a way that means I can sit back and say that I’ve done my bit, or that I’m better than you, but in a way that gives me a greater sense of purpose and self-belief, and which (I hope) frees me from some of the crippling anxiety and the rushing about like a headless chicken, searching for that ‘something’ that I can do.’ Yet I find myself regularly questioning if I’m on the right path. Knowing that change is needed so urgently, and seeing people carrying on with their daily lives around me, unchanged, I’m constantly checking in with myself to make sure I’m not just doing the same.

Yesterday whilst watching a film with my son, I started mapping out my current work commitments, the exhibitions, projects and collaborations that I’ve recently taken on. I wanted to take what felt like a series of disconnected fragments, and draw them together by looking at them through the lens of Climate Breakdown.


I’m at a bit of a crossroads, as we all are, whether we realise it or not. We need to build a regenerative future,  whilst paying attention to our wellbeing as individuals caught between two conflicting worlds. As the co-chairs of the recent IPCC study put it ‘The next few years are probably the most important in our history’. I need to use my recent learning to look at my work with new eyes, and consider what direction to head in next, both personally and professionally. What are the actions that I can take, as a Father, an Artist, a member of a rural community?

‘If sustainability is about avoiding negative footprints, regeneration is about leaving positive handprints – lots of them… We need to reverse course, not just hold the line…not just carbon neutral but carbon negative.’

Marc Barasch, Green World Campaign




6 thoughts on “Navigating an Artful Path in a Time of Crisis

  1. This is a helpful post, James. I am having some of the conversations you describe in your post with my own son – now 18, who was on the climate strike march in Bath on Friday – with my family and mostly with myself. I am feeling overwhelmed about the state of our world but your mapping out process is something I will be able to emulate as a way of taking stock about what I am doing and what I can do. Sometimes small practical steps are incredibly helpful. Thank you.


    1. Hi Josephine, I’m very glad its helpful, I have been feeling overwhelmed too. Yes visual mapping and collaging works for me, to start making sense of all the information and emotions that I’m trying to hold. I think a lot of people are waking up to the magnitude of what’s happening and feeling pretty helpless, but together we can make a massive difference, at least that is my hope. I’m finding the book Active Hope by Joanna Macy very useful too. Take care, James

      Liked by 1 person

  2. James

    This is really interesting and yes at this moment we are in chaos which can be overwhelming; I have been training and delivering new possibilities of leadership and behaviours; We are now approaching a tipping point in many respects and we need to step up and build some new; the old model has failed


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s