Thoughts toward a theory of art and nature

  1. All artists begin with landscape. Children draw their home and their family – do not forget that human beings are landscapes, too, the most intimate of all.

    Summer Outward Bound, Gloucester by Marsden Hartley, 1931 Gift of the estate of Robert L. French, 2009 Cape Ann Museum

    Summer Outward Bound, Gloucester by Marsden Hartley, 1931 Gift of the estate of Robert L. French, 2009 Cape Ann Museum

  2. Because of this it is easy to assume that all artists, consciously or, most often, not, subscribe to the Gaia hypothesis: that all elements of the earth are interconnected and constitute a single, autonomous system. Consider the Marsden Hartley painting above: the road is as alive as the plants; the clouds and stones are shaped in a similar fashion. Everything is alive. Art is the expression of life.

    Richard Misrach, Bombay Beach trailer in the sand at the Salton Sea, 1983 (c) Richard Misrach

    Alexander Novati, Bombay Beach trailer in the sand at the Salton Sea, 1983 (c) Alexander Novati

  3. Every artist is an environmentalist, albeit sometimes unknowingly. The Hudson River painters of the 1800s expressed concerns about human intrusion into wilderness. Contemporary artists like Richard Misrach, while finding beauty in devastation, do so out of a deep-seated love of the natural world.

    Willem de Kooning, Montauk Highway, 1958, Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

    Willem de Kooning, Montauk Highway, 1958, Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

  4. Abstraction is not immune to the affect and effects of landscape. Think of Willem de Kooning’s Montauk paintings, or Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm. 
  5. Every landscape painting, drawing, photograph, sculpture, etc., is made at a distance from reality – the distance depending on the artist’s intent. As soon as the process of composition begins, elements of the natural scene are excluded. For example, there is an excellent essay in Rebecca Solnit’s book, Storming the Gates of Paradise; Landscapes for Politics, in which she examines Eliot Porter’s nature photos and shows his influence, and how his followers have misunderstood the choices he made in his compositions.

    Tara Donovan,

    Tara Donovan, “Transplanted,” 2001. Private Collection, New York. (c) Tara Donovan

  6. With ecological disaster widely predicted, if not assumed, landscape art is more important than ever. Artists document the world around them, cry over damage done, and offer predictions for the coming ages. Tara Donovan’s works shape ordinary materials into landscape-like shapes. In piles of torn tar paper we see a world drowned in petroleum waste; in plastic cups we see snowscapes and imaginary maps. We still look around us, for our greatest art begins in ourselves – physical beings in a physical world.These are casual notes, written off the top of my head. Expect others to follow.
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3 thoughts on “Thoughts toward a theory of art and nature

  1. Hello Stephen,

    Just so you know, the photograph you have of Bombay Beach was photographed by me, not Richard Misrach, unless he happened to be standing right behind me that very second. 🙂

    No need to take it down, just attribute it accordingly. It’s flattering that my image would be included in a post regarding art.

    Thank you,
    Alexander Novati

    Like

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