Arts education with nature

Gunndís Ýr Finnbogadóttir

The pedagogy of imaginative dialogue as it has been developed by the PIMDI project includes arts-based dialogues between humans but also between humans and more-than-human forms of existence. Arts education with nature, often referred to as arts-based environmental education or nature-based arts education, contributes to the development of dialogues with nature because it is an approach that combines artistic methods and environmental exploration. It integrates elements of both art and environmental education (Mantere, 1995). Often, there is a focus on hands-on learning, experiential education, and immersion in the natural environment. This may involve exploring forests, meadows, rivers, or coastal areas and capturing experiences (aesthetic/affective as well as ethical) through art. This approach is centered around enhancing observation skills, personal growth and well-being, critical thinking, multidisciplinary methods, community engagement, problem-solving abilities, and creative expression, observation, and exploration (Best, 2021; Mantere, 1995).

ExampleDuring the PIMDI intensive week in Iceland in September 2022 the focus of the participants was directed towards the development of imaginative dialogues with nature. Thus the intensive week took place in Skalholt, a small place immersed in the Icelandic landscape. As part of the program the students were divided into small groups and invited to develop small workshops for pupils in an upper secondary boarding school nearby. One of the groups developed the short workshop Draw Where You’re Drawn To, which was based on the surrounding landscape. The exercise begins by finding a place in the surrounding landscape that one is drawn to (for various reasons) and drawing it, or part of it, using primary colors (such as crayons, oil pastels, or others) and experimenting with mixing them. On a second sheet of paper, only natural materials found in the nearby environment, such as mud and grass, are used. These materials are rubbed on the paper to create a new work. In this way the pupils could learn about different perspectives and different starting points in art making. These kinds of exercises highlight how pupils might be drawn to very different environments and that there might be different needs or stories behind their choices. It can also illuminate possibilities that may be located around educational settings when finding materials and exploring the nearby material world.

 Draw Where You’re Drawn. Workshop during the PIMDI intensive week in Skalholt, Iceland, September 2022. Photo: Gunndís Ýr Finnbogadóttir

Relevance for the pedagogy of imaginative dialogue

Arts education with nature easily directs attention to the human connection to nature and the surrounding environment, which is constant yet ever-changing. In a workshop designed by Joan Joans (n.d.) for the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, she describes how walking and observing natural processes diverts her mind from anxious thoughts towards incorporating other viewpoints and (his)stories that are created collaboratively. 

For an imaginative dialogue, arts education with nature is relevant because it can enable a broader perspective on with what, whom about, or which dialogues can be developed. 

As a teacher leading imaginative dialogues, it is helpful to work with the idea that we all see the world from our unique viewpoints, and shifting them slightly can affect us and change what we see and how we feel about it.


Best, Krysta. (2021). The Holy Oak School of Art and Ecology: A Proposal for Arts-Based Environmental Education Programming. University of Oregon ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Mantere, M.H. (Ed.), (1995). Image of the Earth: Writing on art-based environmental education, translation of Maan Kuva. Trans. by Marjukka Barron. University of Art and Design, Helsinki, Finland, pp. 1-2.

Joans, Joan. (n.d.). Walking workshop for creating sound images. 

Glynn Vivian Art Gallery: