Paper is a marvelous thing. You take wood, smush it up with water into a pulp, spread it into sheets, let it dry, and then you have this wonderfully flexible but tough, 100% eco-friendly, renewable, recyclable, surface for graphite, charcoal, ink, pastels, paint… whatever you want. Fold it into animal shapes. Wrap a present. Make a piñata. Make a book. Wipe up a mess.
Plastic, however, is a mixed bag. It is undeniably useful. Many things we rely on nowadays would be impossible without it: certain medical equipment, computers and other electric devices, etc. But the same qualities that make it so useful, especially its durability, is also what makes it problematic. It piles up in our landfills, ditches, bodies of water, and shores. It is mistaken for food by wildlife, resulting in diseases and death for many birds and other animals. When plastic does breakdown into the environment, its tiny toxic particles get into everything, including humans.
And that’s above and beyond all of the issues with fossil fuels in general, from which plastics are derived.
So, what do I do every day for years on end? I smear acrylic paint (aka a form of plastic) onto paper. I ruin perfectly good paper by the application of plastic.
No human activity — from eating and defecating to making art or building skyscrapers — is without a cost to our environment. Just by living, all animals (including humans) use resources and impact our environment. The important thing for those of us who can reason and make choices about our activities is that we do our best to minimize our negative impacts and maximize our positive ones.
Not because “be a good person” has been dictated from “on high.” There is no “on high” and there is no meaning or value other than that which we humans — who are far as we known are the only animals capable of reasoning about such things — choose to say is important to us.
We should all WANT to minimize our negative impact and maximize our positive impact because of the shared value that we want most that which leads to the flourishing of all living things, now and into the future.
The flourishing of all living things includes the flourishing of our own individual selves as well.
Now and into the future means our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.
For everyone. All over the world.
(Not just for those whose ancestors immigrated to North America from that small portion of the planet that we call Europe.)
Because I listened this week to recent episode #867 of the podcast “On Being with Krista Tippett” in which Tippett interviewed professor, author, and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, I realized how far I’ve drifted from some of my (supposed) core values, specifically my love for nature and the appreciation of every plant and animal, all of which are beautiful and awe-inspiring.
And, as I often do, I was listening to the podcast while I was painting flowers. Using plastic paint. Onto paper.
It made me wonder whether there was another art medium I could use that would be less harmful to the environment. After some research, I decided to try water-mixable oils. My set of new paints to experiment with should arrive on Monday.
All any of us can do is start where we are with what we have and move forward, striving to better uphold our own values with integrity. And that’s what I’m doing now.
My goal: to ruin less paper.