The Barry Lopez Foundation for Art & Environment was inspired by his belief in the singular ability of the visual arts, literature, and music to communicate the imminent catastrophe posed by climate change. How do we imagine places we have never seen in person, or global transformations too vast to imagine or imperceptible to the naked eye? How do we make meaning of the waves of apocalyptic news that greets us on a daily basis? Barry Lopez believed that the arts could create a tangible connection to the world around us while offering transformative experiences of solace, hope, and understanding. The photographer Robert Adams, a friend of Lopez’s, wrote of this in his book, Art Can Help:

It is the responsibility of artists to pay attention to the world, pleasant or otherwise, and to help us live respectfully within it. Artists do this by keeping their curiosity and moral sense alive, and by sharing with us their gift for metaphor. Often this means finding similarities between observable fact and inner experience—between birds in a vacant lot, say, and an intuition worthy of Genesis. More than anything else, beauty is what distinguishes art. Beauty is never less than a mystery, but it has within it a promise. In this way, art encourages us to gratitude and engagement, and is of both personal and civic consequence.

Environmental consciousness and affection for the land have been persistent themes throughout the history of American art. The landforms of North America and its sense of unbounded wilderness have shaped us as individuals and as a nation. The artworks below consider our relationship with the landscape from the nineteenth century to the present day and how it in turn reflects our own aspirations and desires.