Why we sell our Art on T-shirts?
Art on T-shirts is the best way we can think of to raise awareness of the Natural World. We at Lifeforms are conservationists to the core. Whilst extinction is a natural phenomenon over millions of years, extinctions caused by human activity are a very different matter. Taken at its coldest level, every species is a unique piece of heritage, like a castle, a mountain or a work of art that can and should be preserved for our children, grand-children and beyond. Most of us know that living beings are much more than just heritage. But heritage alone is enough justification to conserve species and care for life on our planet, the only known life in the whole universe at the time of writing!
Saving the world
I read a quote many years ago which said something like: “if you want to save a forest, plant a seed; if you want to save the World, teach the children”. I liked this quote because it did not lament the problem but offered a practical and simple solution. We (humans!) are great communicators and great manipulators of nature. We tend to embark on a lifetime pursuing something we have been shown or, in other words, something we have been taught. If we do not receive information, possibilities and global events remain unknown to us. A few of us are taught to be happy with our lot and to conserve resources and take pleasure from living off little. This can be a life poor in money but rich in stories and adventure.
My grandfather would look out at the countryside on a walk and say (in a strong Yorkshire accent!) … “Why go foreign when we’ve got it all here?” He was being a little xenophobic and was not looking at wilderness I’ll admit! But what he was referring to was the obsession modern society had with foreign holidays and escaping home for the wider world. I took this to heart and have always tried to pursue natural history within walking distance of home.
Every day there is something to make me happy. This is not a complete and perfect philosophy but I believe some of us should concentrate on keeping what nature and beauty we have (or had) rather than us all deserting it to pursue that which is vulnerable to spoiling.
Gorillas, Polar Bears and me
When asked if I want to travel to see gorillas, or polar bears I tend to answer “I suppose I would.” I suppose I would but do the gorillas and polar bears want to see me? Would they benefit from our encounter? The counter argument is that they would benefit from my money, but I have more to give if I haven’t spent it on air-fare etc. to satisfy my own eyes that they exist. Would my time not be better spent with a lower carbon footprint using the information from other people who have seen these species? The great communicators, like Attenborough? Then I can pass the information on in my own way to people who can further help these species, perhaps?
I like drawing and sculpting anyway, but the reason I do it is to communicate, non-verbally. I absorb the information in one form and emit it in another. The purpose is to save threatened species and preserve wilderness (as opposed to farmland, urban areas and roads). Developed places have their merits for us and they can be beautiful (to us) and rich in wildlife, but they don’t need my help unless it is to be more like a wilderness.
I think the most emotive and exciting relics we have of our ancestors are their paintings. They may have intended to communicate only with each other but with or without intent they have communicated across the advent of farming, the invention of the wheel and the industrial revolution, to us. For me it holds a clear message. Most animal calls have been interpreted as “I am here.” Some mean come here, go away etc but the most common meaning is I am here and I am one of these (sex/species/size). Human communication, though vastly complex appears to say little more in the end.
Scientific papers, Olympic gold medals, gigantic buildings, songs, films, even good deeds and crimes are ways of saying I am here. So I, here, am content to say that, whoever it was meant for, the paintings of Irish elk, bulls, spotted horses, mammoths and even spiders are primarily saying, I am here (or I woz ‘ere) and I am one of these (artist and naturalist).
Evolution of the mind
Having read a lot about human origins and the human mind I feel less knowledgeable than I do when I set out! But I do try to simplify things to a level I can understand. Stephen Mithen’s book Prehistory of the mind sets out huge amounts of evidence and hypothesis for the mind evolving like the interior of a cathedral. I am in awe of his work, fascinated by the research that leads to these conclusions but feel more animal, more simple myself than these academic hypotheses suggest. Darwin did not discover evolution but revealed how he thought it worked. His work was followed by evidence from around the world securing what is still called a ‘theory’ into indisputable fact. Evolution happens by fortunate accidents allowing any accidental changes that promote more successful survival or reproduction to succeed over other forms.
Learning = survival!
So having read lots, and this is only my opinion which can crash and burn in the face of alternate evidence, is that our runaway super-brain, which may be cathedral-esque or Swiss army knife-esque, but is actually just a brain, came about because our infants (the baby name we share with chimpanzees) were taught things. It didn’t hugely matter what. Those taught more survived better. At the same time, those with a propensity to learn or remember more stuff survived better too and had more to teach. It seems quite possible we were in an isolated environment, where food became scarce and the only way out was to adapt, to change. So change happened rapidly in the form of the extinction of less changeable individuals. Chocks-away for an evolutionary runaway train if survival is possible.
As we had already passed into a creative stage when we and chimps were one species, a development from that creativity into teaching and learning was a fortunate coincidence that served us well. David Starkey defined humans as creatures that search for patterns. I like that, I can relate to it, I can see it to be true but find it a little harsh. A common message about humans as a species by educators is that we have self-recognition. But I prefer that what we are really recognising is other ‘selfs’. This gives us the ability to empathise, though we don’t always do it.
So my definition of the human animal is this:
Artistic/creative, naturalist, teacher, ape!
Argue with me if you like but, better still, go find out more.
I think art and creativity allowed us to teach more and teach better and became, themselves, skills to teach. Our only route to survival was to better understand the world (of others) around us. So we had no choice but to be naturalists, recognising fruits, prey, hospitable and inhospitable landscapes and landscapes that might provide prey and the tools we loved to make. The mind, an organic lump of meat but ridiculously complex, simply stretched to run alongside our behaviour and our survival statistics. Bigger brains survived changing the shape of our heads, hips expanded to accommodate bigger brains, sociability increased as assisted births led to higher survival rates and infants taught by their own living mums. Inventiveness, always erring towards more food and less labour led to a diet that was easier to eat so our muzzles shrank accordingly.
This is an over simplification but here to illustrate why I think graphic teaching (not necessarily academic education) is important and, most importantly, why it is important to conservation. We need reminders of who we are, what we are and where we are.
Most of us have drawn pictures, if not as adults, then as children. We do it to learn, to create and to communicate. From childhood to present, when ‘caught’ in group conversation, I find the subject is rarely linked to wildlife and wilderness but more often to consumption, products and control of nature or people. Gossip, TV programmes, cars, phones, central heating, sports, holidays. Most of these people are interested in wildlife and wilderness, but it has become remote to them through control of nature locally. Often it has been eradication of nature by people who controlled them and their parents and told them it was the ‘right’ thing to do – draining puddles in fields, clearing scrub from ‘wasteland’, killing weeds and slugs and vermin (red squirrels, polecats, pine martens and peregrine falcons and seals among them) indiscriminately.
I tend to drift away from these conversations mentally and think about wildlife, or physically and draw wildlife. Sooner or later someone might ask what I’m thinking. I’ll say “oh nothing much I just drifted off”. But if I’m drawing they ask about the drawing and I can speak about the things I care about almost only at these times. I have no desire to show off my work in a gallery. But I want the world to care about wildlife and wilderness. In a world of computer games and endless TV entertainment, theme parks and sports grounds, how do we give people the chance to know and care about their fellow creatures?
Why do we sell our Art on T-shirts and more?
Our T shirts and notebooks are intended not just to be pretty pictures. They are our best attempt at an homage to the species they depict and are intended to go out into the World as a mobile gallery. Not as a TV programme or magazine to be quickly discussed and then replaced by the next in our consciousness, nor hidden away in a building or bookshelf. But out in the world, on show, to be discussed again and again and again. For those quiet people who don’t lead conversations, they may just be asked, what’s that on your T shirt, and, for a moment, they can say their bit about wildlife and conservation. It is an important moment.
Our T shirts are art from the heart. They’re intended to spark conversation and make people aware of global conservation issues. Each t-shirt comes with information about the creature. All are made of organic cotton and are Fair wear certified. It’s incredibly important to us that the people making them are paid a fair wage and their working conditions are good. Every day we look for ways to have less negative impact on wildlife and more positive impact on conservation. Our packaging is plastic-free, as is our production process. Please wear your T-shirt with pride and spread the word about the plight of threatened species. These are our companions, our fellow travellers on this small but special planet .