The Sustainable Writer?

Today and tomorrow I’ll be attending the Southwest Arts Conference in Carefree, Arizona where the theme is sustainability. The keynote speaker is photographer Chris Jordan. Jordan is known for his pictures of mass consumerism and waste, like the reproduction of the Seurat painting pictured above that he made with the the image of thousands of aluminum cans. He has published four books that feature his work, Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption, Running the Numbers: an American Self-Portrait, Running the Numbers II: Portraits of Global Mass Culture, and In Katrina's Wake: Portraits of Loss From an Unnatural Disaster. His work has been widely exhibited and he's been featured in many interviews.

Jordan was also a corporate attorney who chose to leave that profession to become an artist and activist. His speech at the conference is supposed to touch on how he moved from disengaged lawyer to a creative defender of the environment.

Jordan’s story is similar to my own and to the story of many artists who once pursued money, status, and validation from other professions. The reason people leave is always the same: one wants to do work that is meaningful, that inspires others. Jordan has become successful as a photographer and so many people will listen to what he has to say and reevaluate the work that they do. But in this worldwide recession I sense a shift away from stories like Jordan’s. I’m hearing more stories about people leaving the arts or teaching to pursue professions like law. The Washington Post featured an article by Sarah Fine who trained as a teacher through Teach for America only to quit after a couple of years. She had many reasons to walk away from teaching but among them was the lack of money and status.

So, I’m looking forward to hearing what Jordan has to say about his decision to remain an arts activist. It may have been an easier choice for him since both of his parents were artists. I’m also looking forward to hearing ideas about what sustainability means for writers. It’s easy to see how the issue impacts visual artists and architects, but what does it mean to be an environmentally aware writer?

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