Environmental Art for Environmental Engagement - Can Visual Art Change The Way We Think & Feel About Global Environmental Issues?
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- Institutt for psykologi 
So far there has been limited research on visual art as a way to communicate environmental change and the benefits it may have over other forms of communication. This thesis consists of a thorough review of the literature on barriers to environmental engagement and challenges in climate communications, and includes three papers that describe the benefits of visual art over other forms of communication, the aspects of artwork that can contribute to a higher impact in terms of promoting engagement (compared to and paralleled with documentaries) and concludes with a case study that explores the effects of an art installation that was specifically created for this project, based on the findings in the first two papers and discussions of these findings between the artist and the research team. The main question that was explored was: Why do people engage with or disengage from environmental issues, and can exposure to visual art encourage this engagement, and if so, how? Participants of the studies were mainly art enthusiasts and scientifically literate individuals. Focus groups and interviews were used to explore participants’ views and to learn more about their viewing process, preferences, likes and dislikes, emotional responses to the art and their ideas to make changes to the artwork or the way the artwork is presented for higher impact. Thematic analyses of the results revealed several interesting factors that need to be present in an artwork for producing maximum impact: an interesting narrative that is experienced as personally relevant; emotional, cognitive and aesthetic appeal; qualities that make the artwork immersive, impressive and memorable; involving most of the senses; triggering cognitive reflection as well as an emotional response. The artwork that was designed for this project, Pollution Pods (by Michael Pinsky), was an art installation that allowed visitors to experience a simulation of the air in 5 cities: Trondheim, London, New Delhi, Beijing and Sao Paolo; so that they could experience and directly compare the air quality in each of those places. Results from interviews with visitors suggested that the artwork helped reduce psychological distance that people typically experience around the abstract issue of climate change. These findings support the idea that experiential learning may be the missing link that could motivate the public to move from concern about climate change to taking pro-climate action, because it brings the issue to life and brings the issue psychologically closer. For some visitors, however, this effect did not occur; instead they found ways to distance themselves further from the pollution effects, especially in terms of personal responsibility, e.g. by concluding that the pollution was mainly happening in other countries and they were hardly contributing to it themselves. Additional focus groups with selected participants will be needed to specify which audiences are particularly prone to being activated by climate change related art installations, as well as how this effect can be maximized across a diverse audience (and how the potential effect of reduced responsibility can be minimized). Factors that were found in the literature and the empirical papers of this project can be used as a starting point and outline for future research. Future studies can also include measures of (immediate) intentions to change, as well as follow-up measures of actual behavior change. As I used a qualitative approach for both data collections in this project, quantitative measures will be needed to be able to generalize results and conclusions to a larger population and to be able to see the impacts of different artworks on the general public as well as particular subgroups. Implications for educators, artists, policy-makers and scientists as well as specific suggestions for future research are discussed.