Click on photos to enlarge.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Landscape Ideology

Note the preponderance of landscapes.
If you were to walk into virtually any art gallery in the U.S., perhaps in the whole civilized world today, by far the largest group of paintings on display would be landscapes. The paintings would vary enormously, as would the locales, the styles, even the nature of the landscape itself, from what we've come to call the urban landscape to the bleakly uninhabited desert landscape. There's a reason for this. Once people lose their natural views, they find themselves having to buy them back. The framed landscape is but an artificial window upon an artificial, unnatural world of the owner's own choosing. Even as we lust for the wildness of nature, we crave to exercise control of our environment. Even as we take our overpriced, overweight, overbearing SUVs off-road into the wilderness, we demand they have air-conditioning, power seats, Dolby stereo sound, and a drop dead gorgeous, color co-ordinated, deeply padded, leather interior. As for our paintings, we want a richly carved, gold leaf frame around our painterly improvisations of nature as we imagine it, free of roadside litter, free of roadside billboards, in fact, free of roadsides altogether.

The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew,
1308, Duccio di Buoninsegna's
Landscape painting did not grow out of a love of nature. It grew out of a love of God. In the 14th century, when the first traces of landscape painting began to appear as backgrounds in religious works, nature was still something to be feared, something to be overcome, its beauty unrecognized and something to be taken for granted. During the medieval period, as artists embraced richly rewarding commissions to decorate churches, which were fostered by he need to enlighten illiterate worshipers, it quickly became obvious that it was impossible to paint Adam and Eve without a Garden of Eden, or Christ in the wilderness without a wilderness. But rather than go out and study nature, artists improvised and imagined it. A typical example can be seen in Duccio's The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew. Painted around 1308, the background is gold leaf, the rocks contrived and monochromatic, the sea calmly flat but abounding richly in fish, calling to mind the "fishers of men" analogy.

View of the Arco Valley in the Tyrol,
1495, Albrecht Durer 
 Even 185 years later when Albrecht Dürer painted View of the Arco Valley we find him imposing his own order upon the scene, eliminating neighboring hills to emphasise the noble character of the mountaintop Italian village. And where he didn't impose his own will, he depicted in great detail the will of his fellow man all about the scene, even the imagined face of a man seen in one of the rocky cliffs. His rendering is rich in medieval detail yet strangely sterile in natural colour. The theme is man's apparent triumph in his domination of nature.

No comments:

Post a Comment