Art and Geography

Two of my loves in life are art and geography; and, it seems, there are others that share my passions.

An increasing number of artists are incorporating the themes of geography into their art. Meet a few during American Artist Appreciation Month!

Valerie Ostenak

Photograph courtesy Valerie Ostenak

Celebrating nature, celebrating the diversity of things that are growing, I’m part of the creative part of the universe.

Valerie Ostenak is an American metalsmith eternally inspired by movement and dynamic patterns in the natural world. Valerie is equally fascinated by the fast-moving power of a rushing ocean wave and the slow growth of stalactites in a cave.

Kyle Abraham

When you think of visual artists and musicians from Pittsburgh, like Andy Warhol for example, you see this industrial life mixed in with something almost upper-class. You see a blending of worlds in their work, and I think in mine, too. It’s like an elegant blue collar work. I’m really trying to blend cultural perspectives—chuck them all in a melting pot.

Kyle Abraham is an American choreographer, dancer, and certified “genius” courtesy his 2014 MacArthur Fellowship. The urban geography of cities like New York and his native Pittsburgh influence Kyle’s work with his company,—a style he calls a “hybrid of gritty and a bit of elegance.”

Devorah Jacoby

Devorah takes the viewer to places both real and in the imagination with bits of maps and clues to help us find our bearings

Devorah Jacoby is an American artist with an entire collection entitled “Geography”. Her art, done mostly in oil paints, has a raw, impressionistic quality and features parts of maps and other clues that take the viewer to places both real and imagined.

Raghava KK

Photograph by Nimish Jain

When you see the world through other people’s eyes, you have a richer understanding of who you are and why people do what they do.

Raghava KK is a National Geographic Explorer and pioneer in the field of “participatory art.” Participatory art combines diverse media with high-tech tools such as touch-screens and EEG headsets, which measure electrical activity in the brain through a series of sensors on a wearer’s scalp. People who view Raghava’s art directly participate in it, and become artists themselves.

By wearing an EEG headset, viewers of Raghava’s “Mona Lisa 2.0”, for instance, watch the painting adjust to their mood and emotions. An excited viewer might see “Mona Lisa” smile and laugh, while a frustrated viewer might see her frown. Ultimately, Raghava hopes participatory art allows people to better understand themselves and each other.

Judy Tuwaletstiwa

Photograph courtesy Judy Tuwaletstiwa

Art grows out of the landscape in which it is formed. The art that has influenced me comes out of very different landscapes.”

Judy Tuwaletstiwa is an American artist who works within the global art community, incorporating influences from Fellini to the Far East, Inuit to Eastern Europe. Judy’s work, which incorporates painting, sculpture, and photography, is crucially influenced by the physical and cultural geography around her.

Ben H. Mirin

Music and art can connect us all to the wild world It turns conservation into an international language that anybody can dance to.

Ben H. Mirin, a.k.a. DJ Ecotone, is a sound artist and National Geographic explorer. He travels the world recording animal sounds and samples them to create music that connects people to nature.

Ben leads expeditions to record and catalog acoustic data from many of the planet’s most endangered ecosystems, and works with musicians, scientists, and documentarians to engage new audiences in conservation.

Experimental Geography

Photograph courtesy Nato Thompson and iCI

Experimental Geography explores ‘the distinctions between geographical study and artistic experience of the earth, as well as the juncture where the two realms collide (and possibly make a new field altogether.)’

“Experimental Geography,” is an art exhibit that uses geography as its muse. The exhibit is a compilation of work from a variety of artists put together by curator Nato Thompson.

Art in the installation runs the gamut of contemporary art practice today: sewn cloth cities that spill out of suitcases, bus tours through water treatment centers, performers climbing up the sides of buildings, and sound works capturing the buzz of electric waves on the power grid.”

Bill Rankin

“Projection Study” by Bill Rankin

Overall I’d saw that there are two ways I’m trying to radicalise cartography. The first is to place more emphasis on social landscapes, rather than the physical landscape alone. This means no longer seeing the road map or the aerial photo as the default. The second is to reimagine boundaries. Most of what we know about boundaries comes from maps, and by making new kinds of maps we can start to think about boundaries in new ways.

Another artistic contribution to geography is Radical Cartography, the ongoing work of historian and cartographer Bill Rankin. Bill rethinks the way maps are used as apolitical references for natural and political landmarks, and considers this approach—not the content on his maps—the radical element of his work.

Rebecca Solnit

Excerpted from INFINITE CITY: A San Francisco Atlas, by Rebecca Solnit, published by the University of California Press. © 2010 by the Regents of the University of California.

The geography actually comes first, although I just call it an interest in place, landscape, that kind of thing. That was present as soon as I was old enough to explore the backyard.

Rebecca Solnit is an artist, writer, and radical cartographer herself. Geography has informed her essays and her ongoing series of urban atlases, so far focused on San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York. Rebecca hopes her team of artists, cartographers, and writers can help redefine the atlas as more than a navigational tool and an exploration of an interrelated sense of place.

Nat Geo Photographers!

Of course, we couldn’t talk about American Artist Appreciation Month without acknowledging some of our favorite artists—our National Geographic photographers!

Photograph by Anand Varma, National Geographic

Anand Varma is a science photographer who works to tell the story behind the science of everything, from primate behavior and hummingbird biomechanics, to amphibian disease and forest ecology.


Photograph by Ami Vitale, National Geographic

Ami Vitale is known for seeking out the stories within and around “the story”—the wedding happening around the corner from the revolution, triumphs amidst seemingly endless devastation.


My favorite photo on the entire Nat Geo website.
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Joel Sartore and the National Geographic Photo Ark are using the power of photography to inspire people to help save species at risk before it’s too late. Joel has photographed 8,485 species in zoos and aquariums around the world.

Photograph by Krista Schlyer

Krista Schlyer is a wildlife photographer with a passion for using her work to spread the message of wildlife conservation. She focuses her work on biodiversity and public lands.


Photograph by David Doubilet, National Geographic

David Doubilet is a photojournalist specializing in ocean environments. David enters the sea as a journalist, artist, and explorer to document both the beauty and the devastation in our oceans.


All of these artists are putting a new twist on old ideas, as well as bringing the two worlds of art and geography together. Use their work as inspiration to help students see the world around them in different ways!

One thought on “Art and Geography

  1. Geography has and will continue to be the holistic approach, both human and physical geography, to integrate all subjects. To reach all students, all educators, we need to reexamine the idea of STEM to STEAM. This is what will change the world where curiosity leads to ACTION, again for all students, those that excel in art, literature that leads to our stories we share, social studies, technology, math, science. Passionate that we are always inclusive.

Leave a Reply