The idea that we need to replace the paradigm of Art for Art’s Sake with Art for Our Sake is one that, fortunately, resonates with some artists today. Tasmanian artist, Lucienne Rickard, is one of those. She recently provided a great example with her project “Extinction Studies,” a performance art piece prepared for the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
Rickard’s project involved carefully drawing and then erasing large images of animals that have recently gone extinct. She did this in public over a 16 month period which began in September 2019.
For most people, Rickard’s purpose and message were clear without further explanation, but she was explicit about it in a video produced for the project. In that video, Rickard expressed her view that artists are fundamentally communicators and that “artists have to start getting serious.” Speaking about the extinction crisis, she said, “It feels like the right time to do something.”
What is particularly interesting about Rickard’s drawings for “Extinction Studies” is that it is not the drawings themselves that are conceptual. They are realistic and in some contexts might even be called scientific illustrations because of their attention to detail. What makes them conceptual is Rickard’s performance of creation and then destruction through erasing. That is a brilliant, brave, and poetic idea. Over 16 months she created and destroyed 38 large format drawings in public. The rate of extinction of Australian mammals is the highest in the world. That continent loses about one mammal every five years and this rate could increase if the pressures of invasive species and brush fires do not let up. It is great to see a Tasmanian artist like Lucienne Rickard take on the topic of global animal extinctions and produce such impactful work. Furthermore, it is great to see her encourage other artists to do the same. The core idea of Art for Our Sake is that the visual communication and messaging skills of artists should be directed toward the world’s problems and point the way toward solutions. “I feel like artists have a really big role to play,” says Rickard. I agree.