Landscapes

http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-art-instinct-9781608190553/

http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-art-instinct-9781608190553/

If you were to guess what sort of landscape people universally like--from Africa to America to Asia to Australia--how would you describe it? According to aesthetic philosopher Denis Dutton, author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, it would be similar to the landscape of our Pleistocene ancestors: open spaces with low grasses and copses of trees, especially those that fork near the ground (for easy escape from predators?). An example is the scene below from South Africa.

Savanna (and animals) near Kuruman, South Africa. Photo by Brian Dell. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Savanna (and animals) near Kuruman, South Africa. Photo by Brian Dell. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

There could be evidence of water, animals, and birds. And the picture could contain a path or road, a riverbank or shoreline, extending into the distance, as though beckoning us to follow it. What's particularly fascinating is that this landscape is regarded as beautiful by people in countries that don't even have such terrain. Dutton points out that it shows up on calendars and postcards, in designs of golf courses and public parks, and in framed pictures hanging on living room walls around the world.

"Autumn in France" (1910-1911), by Emily Carr. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Autumn in France" (1910-1911), by Emily Carr. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Artists create all kinds of landscapes for all kinds of reasons. In the late-19th- and early-20th-century, many Western artists were driven to create landscapes in part because of their dissatisfaction with the modern city. They imagined earthly paradises in paint. Others simply have wanted to capture impressionistically the essence of Nature's beauty around them, or to remember a place they visited. Some wanted to realistically depict the details, especially before photography was invented. And then there's simply the desire to delight in colors and shapes. Based on certain philosophical traditions, a spiritual element might be integral to the landscape picture, creating more of a "mindscape," as in this painting by Australian artist Maria Gorton, or that of Canadian artist Lawren Harris, currently exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

"One Moon, Many Waters," by Maria Gorton. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"One Moon, Many Waters," by Maria Gorton. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Lake Superior" (c. 1923), by Lawren Harris. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. © Art Gallery of Ontario. © Family of Lawren S. Harris. Source: http://www.mfa.org

"Lake Superior" (c. 1923), by Lawren Harris. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. © Art Gallery of Ontario. © Family of Lawren S. Harris. Source: http://www.mfa.org

Landscapes have gone in and out of fashion in the art world, but they still command our attention. They can be exotic or familiar, bucolic or grand, remote and wild, fantastic or mystical, totally abstract or fully representational. They can be screen-printed, painted in oils, watercolors or acrylics, composed with textiles, sketched in ink, charcoal, pastel or pencil, etched, engraved, captured by camera, and so much more. Here are a few from different times and places and in different mediums. Can you guess when, where, and how?

"Free Spirits among Streams and Mountains: A Chinese Handscroll," by Wang Yuan-ch'i (1645-1715). The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Free Spirits among Streams and Mountains: A Chinese Handscroll," by Wang Yuan-ch'i (1645-1715). The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Fjord with Steamer" (1871), by Elisabeth Grüttefien-Kiekebusch. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Fjord with Steamer" (1871), by Elisabeth Grüttefien-Kiekebusch. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Windmills Near Zaandam" (1871), by Claude Monet. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Windmills Near Zaandam" (1871), by Claude Monet. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

In an interview conducted by Krista Tippett for her program "On Being," the Irish poet John O'Donohue says, "What amazes me about landscape is its Zen thereness. In a certain sense, landscape recalls you into a mindful moment of stillness, silence, and solitude, where you can truly receive time."

"Avenue of Poplars in Autumn" (1884), by Vincent Van Gogh. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Avenue of Poplars in Autumn" (1884), by Vincent Van Gogh.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"South West African Landscape with Termite Hill, Umbrella Trees and Mountains in the Background"  (1935), by Jacob Hendrik Pierneef. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"South West African Landscape with Termite Hill, Umbrella Trees and Mountains in the Background" 
(1935), by Jacob Hendrik Pierneef. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Yearning for a Pleasurable Place" (1816), by Kameda Bôsai. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Yearning for a Pleasurable Place" (1816), by Kameda Bôsai. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"The beauty of nature," O'Donohue continues, "is its generosity." He refers to the Celtic view of landscape as not just matter but actually something alive. It's not simply the outer presence of the landscape that affects us. There's also something that connects us to the elemental, to the rhythm of the universe.

"Colorado Turquoise," by Regina V. Benson. Photo by John Bonath. Source: http://www.reginabenson.com

"Colorado Turquoise," by Regina V. Benson. Photo by John Bonath. Source: http://www.reginabenson.com

"Desert Pool," by Karen Wysopal. Source: http://www.karenwysopal.com

"Desert Pool," by Karen Wysopal. Source: http://www.karenwysopal.com

"Reflected in the Gualala River." Photo by Rick Denniston.

"Reflected in the Gualala River." Photo by Rick Denniston.

Questions and Comments:
What kind of landscapes are you drawn to--peaceful, stormy, mythological, realistic, bright or chiaroscuro, minimalist or detailed?
If you create landscapes, what kind, and in what medium?

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