A question I’ve been asked often by students is, “Why do you paint mainly landscapes?” Some universities are still announcing that painting is dead, and that landscape painting is particularly dead. However, this is not something that I’ve noticed. Here’s my shot at why landscapes are likely to be with us for a while yet, and why I’ll probably continue working with them:
Our natural world is simply loaded with potentially creative elements. Land, rocks, trees, water, sky — all hold universal images. Think of all the combinations you can get from those five alone. Beside the variety we have before us, the variety of ways these elements can be individually mixed, matched and reinterpreted is mind-boggling. Like the family of man, the world of wildlife, abstraction, and all the other genres, the choices are infinite… Simply put, for those of us who choose it, the elements of landscape offer a kind of life-enhancing enrichment, as well as challenging opportunities for the development of style. If you also think of painting as an opportunity for joy, then perhaps the achievement of personal style is one of its more joyous outcomes. Landscape painting involves a varying degree of “getting it right,” as well as doing something with it, perhaps redesigning it. Except for those in some sort of solitary confinement, everybody looks out at a view. Landscape painters get joy by honouring and universalizing their personal views.
All genres in art are valid. All are authentic. Creators who take the student approach are gradually and endearingly turned on to the life. Robert Bateman noted, “I can’t conceive of anything being more varied and rich and handsome than the planet Earth. Its crowning beauty is the natural world. I want to soak it up, to understand it as well as I can, and to absorb it. And then I’d like to put it together and express it in my paintings. This is the way I want to dedicate my work.”
PS: “The Earth’s distances invite the eye. And as the eye reaches, so must the mind stretch to meet these new horizons. I challenge anyone to stand with autumn on a hilltop and fail to see a new expanse not only around him, but in him, too.” (Hal Borland)
Esoterica: The search for beauty is an innate human quest — one way we try to make our world even richer than it is. We may be a race that is saddled with perfectionism. Perhaps it’s human to be always moving our hands to improve, to feature, to monumentalize. Artists cave into this weakness, surrender to it. This is why we artists have within us the potential to be such a highly evolved bunch. This is why we have become such valuable people. There will always be some of us who love the landscape and make it our home. “It is only a little planet, but how beautiful it is.” (Robinson Jeffers)
This letter was originally published as “Why landscape?” on November 30th, 2004.
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