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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Landscape

Taos Mountain Trail Home, 1915-20, Cordelia Wilson

There seems to be a direct correlation between the art of landscape painting and the degree to which a society in a given era lives "close to the land". This was true in the era of the Hudson River School just as it pervades the art today of the Taos community in New Mexico. The more the "land" dominates and determines man's daily existence, the more it dominates the arts. The more threatening the environment in which a given society exists, the more importance the weather plays into the art of landscape painting.   
The corollary to all this is that once people have begun to "conquor" a given geographical area and cope with its environment to the point that it is no longer a threat to their existence, then landscape painting becomes nostalgic, and/or declines noticably in importance. It gives way to other more important subjects such as expressionism, introspection, social commentary, art for art's sake (as in abstraction), or simply "pretty pictures"   
The Rocky Mountains, 1907,
Thomas Mower Martin (Canadian)
An interesting example of this can be seen in the fact that in areas such as Canada and Southwestern United States, where the land is still very much wild and the weather even wilder, there remains a strong, contemporary, affinity for landscape painting. Contrast this with the east coast of the U.S., where only the relentless (and often threatening) sea holds any interest for the landscape  artist. Or look at the work coming out of urban areas where the landscape as a subject for art is looked upon as being somehow "quaint"; where artists only paint to impress one another, their struggle being not with the landscape around them but with that landscape within themselves.   

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