What is a Landscape painting. Main ethos of Landscape painting?
One rarely sees landscape paintings in art galleries. Landscape painting was always less about documenting geographical reality and more about a spiritual expression. Van Gogh, Turner and Constable made iconic landscape paintings that came to define the genre in Western art.
Jonathan Jones, reviewing an exhibition, Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 – 1900, claims that the first ever landscape in Western art was made on August 5, 1473 by the young Leonardo da Vinci, a landscape that was depicted for itself rather than as the background. He further suggests that da Vinci himself was inspired by Chinese landscape painting where the genre was already highly sophisticated. Chinese landscape painting is closely linked to the spread of Buddhism from 1 AD onwards, with its emphasis on contemplation of nature.
The Impressionists introduced the concept of urban landscapes and Andy Warhol went even further by saying the supermarket was his landscape. Urban life has all but excluded the experience of nature. Landscape artists from Richard Long to Andy Goldsworthy based their work in remote natural locations, bringing back photographs of their encounters with nature, knowing that is the only way to share their experiences.
Today we are shocked by fierce cyclones, floods and earthquakes that ravish our false sense of security. Much of this comes from living disconnected from nature. Selin Kesebir and Pelin Kesebir conducted a study at Berkeley University in which they selected 186 nature-related words like autumn, moonlight, names of birds and plants, and checked how frequently they appear in the popular culture of the UK and the US including books, songs, film and documentaries. They found a significant fall since the ’50s. Urbanisation did not explain this trend since cities predate the ’50s. The logical conclusion was the growth of television and later the internet and video games that replaced outdoor leisure and entertainment.
Landscape has become real estate rather than a place to connect with the wonders of nature. Although countries have designated substantial conservation areas, including 157 in Pakistan, these are tourist destinations or for protection of endangered species or attempts to reverse climate change. They are not part of our daily lives.
I always imagine that the fall from Eden, tied as it is to the development of self-consciousness, marked that evolutionary moment when humans lost their place in nature. Thereafter, humans have had to appropriate, rather than co-exist with, nature. Many studies show the positive impacts on health and emotional well-being as a consequence of nature’s experiences. It is said to calm our nervous systems.
Some of our most useful inventions came from observing nature: airplanes from studying the flight of birds, observing animal behaviour to find water and edible foods; aerodynamic swimwear from the study of sharks.
On a moral level, it fills us with gratitude, awe and reverence, emotions that we rarely experience in our daily lives. An Australian artist friend, Mick Douglas, shared an experience when he was sailing solo from Tasmania to mainland Australia. When he reached a point where neither land mass was visible he felt a life-altering sense of liberation, awareness of his irrelevance in the larger scheme of nature.
Nature teaches us Divine timing — everything in its own time; humility — a blade of grass can bend without being destroyed; generosity — fruit-bearing trees, nectar-producing flowers; balance, adaptation and coexistence; taking only as much as one’s need; bees working best together; the fierceness of the weak when protecting their young; not to push so far as to force retaliation.
Some of our most useful inventions came from observing nature: airplanes from studying the flight of birds, observing animal behaviour to find water and edible foods; aerodynamic swimwear from the study of sharks. Proverbs such as “Can the sheep expect justice when the wolf is judge?” Or “The fly sat on the chariot wheel and said, ‘what a dust do I raise!’” make language more expressive. South Asian folk songs reference marigolds, neem trees, monsoon clouds, the full moon, mountains, streams and birds. Dances
were based on the movements of snakes, peacocks and camels. Nature was an integral part of our life experiences.
The well-known environmentalist, Paul Shepard, observes, “It is odd, after 70 centuries of city life we continue to be uneasy about it and uncertain as to what is wrong. Beneath the veneer of civilisation … lies not the barbarian and animal, but the human in us.” He suggests urban dwellers continue to long for nature: whether gifts of flowers or visit to zoos and parks, or a fascination with National Geographic documentaries. Shepard further says, “We search for poetic wholeness subverted by the model of the machine instead of the body.”
Urban citizens seek certainty but agricultural man is ‘certain only about uncertainty’ — of crop seeds germinating, rain at the right time, fear of floods or drought. Given that we can no longer return to simple agricultural lifestyles, we need to find other ways of connecting with nature. As Shepard says, “Instead of being one subject matter in art, we may come to see landscape as the story of our being.