Musician Brian Eno on Convincing Fans to Care About Climate Change

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As told to Jess Shankleman

I spend a lot of my time thinking, “What use am I as an artist?” I mix with a lot of activists, and I look at them and think, “Why aren’t I doing something as useful as that?”

I’d like to think that being an artist was, in itself, some form of activism—that it impacted the world in a way that made it better. There’s very little explicit, good political music made. It always comes out as propaganda. I think art works in a much more subtle, organic and holistic way.

Musician Brian Eno on Convincing Fans to Care About Climate Change

Art presents us with a different kind of world. When you look at a work of art, you’re never looking just at that work of art. You’re looking at an object that falls in a long sequence of objects that you’ve seen. The place you can see this most is in how people feel about their haircuts. We’re very strongly aware of what that stylistic statement is, though we might never analyze it and we don’t know why we have those feelings. When we have those kinds of feelings, what we’re thinking is, “I like the kind of world that this belongs to.”

Feelings are very important, because most of the things we ever decide we don’t do on the basis of carefully collecting and curating all the information and evidence. We mainly do it on the basis of feelings. Most of the things we decide are decided by feelings. That means art is a pretty important thing. It’s one of the ways we understand the world.

How did people start to become environmentalists in the last 50 years or so? I think it’s partly because they learned to find nature beautiful. There was a huge-selling album from the 1970s [Songs of the Humpback Whale]. It’s the aestheticization of whales and their songs that made people suddenly start to think, “Whales, Jesus, we’re killing them.” That’s one of the things art does—it turns our attention to things. It seems to me the only way we’ll save the planet is by falling in love with it.

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