An eco-focused artist and educator answers questions
What work do you do?
I am an artist, art teacher, art therapist, and writer, all dealing with a concern for the fate of the earth. I am a contributing member of many national environmental organizations and an active and founding member of a local land-conservation organization. I’ve retired from a 40-year career as a professor of art and art education at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth; I am now Chancellor Professor Emeritus.
What, in a perfect world, would constitute “mission accomplished”?
The best possible world would be quite a simple, interwoven world in which worth, necessity, and inherent dignity were evenly distributed across all creation. With that one value in mind, a great deal of the inter- and intra-violence in relationships would be alleviated. Then, on to enjoying the view. Sounds simple? Sounds simplistic? It is, but let’s try it for 10 years or so and see what happens. We have been trying the opposing view for 10,000 years and see what that has awarded us?
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
I do now what I always have done, only in different proportions: paint, draw, garden, fish, read, write, teach, lecture, make breakfast and lunch for my wife and myself, share dinner with friends, talk endlessly, nap in the afternoons, eat my kishkes while out reading The New York Times and listening to NPR.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
For the clearest view of that bumpy and utterly surprising (to me) road, one may read my current book: Drawing Closer to Nature. Mostly my life’s trajectory has been the result of an infinity of lucky and not-so-lucky happenstances. Fascinating to me, utterly uninstructive for anyone else. I have read and met remarkable people, each time shifting my course somewhat, sometimes only after years of synthesis, sometimes just like that.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in New York City — Brooklyn to be exact. I now live in several places, including a seaside village and a hillside country home in the center of Massachusetts.
What do you consider your environmental coming-of-age moment or experience?
My book, Drawing Closer to Nature, describes several such incidents. But in brief, our family left Brooklyn in the summers for two weeks in the country, renting a bungalow in some form of colony of the same. As soon as we arrived: no more shoes, no more lessons, no more adults looking over your shoulder. School’s out forever! Or so it seemed. And off I went to pick blackberries, catch snakes, turn over stones, see what may be just beyond the bend. Fish, eat baloney sandwiches and cupcakes by the side of a brook. Returning only by late afternoon for a dunk in the pool or pond, cookies and milk, joke books, punch ball game, and off to bed.
What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?
As a chairman of a department, having to answer to deans who were uninterested in my department, my requests, and me.
What’s been the best?
I have been fortunate to have been awarded many honors in my profession: Chancellor Professor, chairman, distinguished fellow of my national organization, keynote speaker, and such. Before being awarded these honors, I coveted them. Having been the recipient of them, comforting to my ego as they are, they are no better than my own opinion of the actual work I do — this painting, that book or lecture.
What’s on your desk right now?
Besides my computer and its paraphernalia, active file folders: upcoming Drawing Closer to Nature courses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Colorado, North Carolina, British Columbia, and Tennessee. Files on editing a national research journal on holistic perspectives on arts education, reviews I am writing for a number of artists, a Holocaust memorial committee, a tree conservation committee for my town, and notes for a book I am writing with a colleague on the Wonder Full Teacher. Plus, assorted crap.
What environmental offense has pissed you off the most?
This damn Bush and his entire administration, who are exemplars of the very worst plunderers of the earth Western civilizations have ever come up with. There is no more serious threat to the earth, to civilization itself, than this pugnacious, self-righteous punk and his appointed cronies. I hate myself for writing this so crudely but it drives me crazy and I am undone by this profound fault in the scheme of things.
Who is your environmental hero?
There are so many. Quickly: Lao Tse, St. Francis of Assisi, Thomas Merton, Walt Whitman, Thoreau, Emerson, Melville, Wendell Berry, Thomas Berry, Barry Lopez, Louis Kahn, Anthony Storrs, Paul Shepard, Annie Dillard, Mathew Fox, and T. C. McLuhan, are a few that come quickly to mind.
Who is your environmental nightmare?
That SOB Bush.
What’s your environmental vice?
Cutting trees for firewood and improved views.
How do you get around?
Car, bike, and bus, plus lots of footwork.
What are you reading these days?
Parabola, Orion, Scientific American, The New Yorker, publications of the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, and such, the letters of Van Gogh, Life of Pi, the Talmud Bavli, Earth Prayers, and Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind.
Are you a news junkie? Where do you get your news?
The New York Times, The New Yorker, Scientific American, and NPR. Environmental publications for that dimension of the news.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
I have none — it’s all Eden to me.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
Be nice to everything and everyone, all the time.
Would you label yourself an environmentalist?
I say I am an environmentalist in the same way as saying I am alive. How is it possible to say I am not an environmentalist, and then take a breath, take a sip of water, stay rooted to earth by gravity. There is nothing but environmentalism, at least not since the big bang.
What’s one thing the environmental movement is doing particularly well?
It’s doing everything well — all 10,000 ramifications of dependant arising are being addressed by one aspect of the environmental movement or another. How quickly they (we) shift the consciousness and congruent behaviors of the majority relative to the current thinking and behavior of the majority is the only horse race worth following.
What important environmental issue is frequently overlooked?
We never left Eden; it’s right here, right underfoot. Not noticing that, we treat this place as if it were not Eden, as though there is something better to come. This is it. Now we have to behave accordingly.
What was your favorite band when you were 18? How about now?
The Beatles. The Beatles. The Beatles.
Mac or PC?
What are you happy about right now?
Really? Everything, except that goddamn Bush and his boys — and one girl.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Leave town; take a walk by yourself in nature just as it is. Ask yourself, “Isn’t this a swell place? Isn’t this unbelievable? Isn’t this beyond what I have earned?” Stay there a while. Then, when you have absorbed as much as your teeny, squishy body can absorb without leaking out from one port or another, go home and tell your friends to do the same thing.