An artist’s view of climate change
ECHO — Lois Haak took her concerns about worldwide climate change potential and channeled them into a drawing that reflects the likely risks of not taking action to safeguard earth’s life-sustaining resources.
She created a depiction of the before-and-after process that’s projected by a large share of scientists if average temperatures continue to climb, sea levels keep rising and a greater number of weather extremes steadily unfold. The drawing was part of a 2019 exhibit at the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council art gallery on North Third Street in Marshall.
It was one of several artworks that sold while the exhibit was on display. It was purchased by Thomas Flynn of Marshall, a former classmate of Haak’s in the creative writing program at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Haak, who works at the ECHO Charter School in Echo, decided to visually portray the climate change issue because of experiences that date back to her childhood.
“I’ve always been someone who likes the outdoors,” Haak said. “I enjoy noticing details in a natural area, and how things can change from one day to the next.”
She’s applied that interest to a portion of her artistic efforts, first to creative writing and then to art. Both kinds of creative expression took on new dimensions while she studied at SMSU.
One of her art instructors, Robert Dorlac, convinced her that she could go far enough as a visual artist to have an entire art show of her own.
“I wasn’t sure how much I could achieve with art,” she said. “He thought I had potential and encouraged me because he noticed that I had ideas I wanted to express. He told me that’s the one thing he can’t teach art students.”
Haak’s recent exhibit at the SMAC gallery showed how she sometimes enjoys creating more than one variation on a subject through the use of different colors and shades. When combined with well-defined lines, pairs and trios of drawings offer more than one impression of a subject.
She chose to create several ballroom dance drawings because of her interest in the dancing of celebrity performers such as Fred Astaire. Another wall at the SMAC gallery included two side-by-side interpretations of a flower and butterfly, one of them vibrantly colorful and another that offered a softer combination.
Climate change was one example of an exhibit subject for which one drawing stood on its own. Haak’s interpretation showed a degeneration from a solid wall with a strong foundation to one that crumbled from powerful, unchecked forces.
“I’m deeply concerned about what might happen to our way of life if changes we’ve started to see keep happening,” Haak said. “Glaciers that were enormous when I saw them as a child are disappearing. Islands are being submerged by oceans and wildlife such as polar bears have no new habitat to replace the one they’re losing. It adds up to many changes in less than a century.”
She’s interested in how North America’s winter of 2018-19 will be interpreted by scientists, politicians, the national and world news media, and the general public.
“This kind of weather leads some people to feel thankful for predictions of warmer temperatures,” she said. “It’s important to go beyond that. The overall projections aren’t favorable.”
She noted that even modest temperature increases would be likely to disrupt fragile ecosystems like coral reefs, shallow marshes and coastal lowlands. At the same time, both the natural balance and human enterprises could be endangered by more frequent weather disasters.
Haak’s way of incorporating all of those concerns into a single drawing caught the attention of Flynn, who went on from SMSU to pursue a master of fine arts degree with an emphasis on creative writing by using 21st century online learning opportunities.
He said he plans to find a highly visible place in his home to put the drawing on display.
“I like how she based it on the concept of a wall,” Flynn said. “Many times all people can do is react to a situation after it happens. The stakes are high with climate change, so it’s better to think ahead as much as possible.”
He said artists are in a good position to show perspectives on many political, social, and environmental issues likely to affect the quality of life for future generations. Those perspectives could emerge with any art medium, including visual art, writing, music, theater or dance.
“Artists should speak out on issues when they feel compelled,” Flynn said. “They can offer perspectives that sometimes catch a person’s attention more than facts and statistics.”
SMAC Director Nicole DeBoer said Haak’s exhibit is one out of many that feature emerging regional artists. By having a gallery space, SMAC can give many of its grant recipients a chance to publicly display the results of artistic efforts supported in part by grant dollars.
“Some of them have their first exhibit in our gallery,” DeBoer said. “An important part of SMAC’s mission is to promote emerging artists and to show the depth of talent that we have within the region.”