Products Worth a Thousand Pictures and a Million Words: Independent Winter Study Project


There is no shortage of data reflecting the impact of human activities on the environment. While scientific study has a crucial role in helping us to better understand and remediate these impacts, oftentimes statistics and quantifications seem to fail in changing environmentally-degrading human activities. For my independent Winter Study 99, with the guidance of Professor Laura Martin, I chose to explore the question, how can visual representation convey environmental and scientific knowledge to a broad audience? I completed four pieces of artwork that communicate the environmental impact of common products used daily by Williams College students: a banana, an aluminum can, shampoo, and internet usage.

The respective life cycles of each product bring to mind countless images; true to the old adage, each of these images is worth a thousand words, words that describe the particular associated environmental impacts of any single component of the life cycle of the product. In my artistic process, the prospect of choosing just a few images to depict was rather overwhelming! A single piece of art, of course, cannot represent the entirety of a product’s environmental impacts, but the choice of portrayal has a huge effect on how the piece is seen by the viewer. My overarching goals with the artistic design were to achieve my objectives of creating awareness and potentially change in behavior of my audience; to inspire hopeful action rather than defeatism; to accurately reflect the aspects of the life cycles that I chose to portray; to use a consistent style so that the four pieces of art complement one another; and to represent a diverse range of environmental impacts both within the pieces and between the pieces.

The artwork was displayed from February through mid-April in the study space on the main floor of the Environmental Center. The work was recently transferred to the third floor of Sawyer library, in an effort to diversify viewership. I hope that my artwork contributes to challenging the Division I/Division III divide here at Williams, promoting interdisciplinary conversation and increasing awareness of the environmental impacts of student consumption habits.