Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reflections on landscape painting after 1900

Autumn at the Sackler Crossing - a nearly finished 'work in progress
8" x 10", coloured pencils on Arches HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Yesterday I completed an exercise involving hours of working my way through the books I own which provide a comprehensive overview of art across the world and across the centuries.

At the end of it - besides having the content for an overview of landscape art for my blog post - I was perplexed.

I really don't understand how the painting of landscapes can be such an enduring form of art across cultures, continents and centuries - until we get to the 20th century. In the last 50+ years, landscape art just doesn't seem to be produced by the sort of contemporary artists who get into major galleries, have exhibitions in the important museums and sell for big sums in the auction houses.

Why is that?

I've been trying to work out why ever since yesterday morning.

Maybe it's a corollary of the way change speeded up in the twentieth century? Just as we went from horse drawn carriages and the telegraph to landing a man on the moon and email in less than a 100 years, maybe leading artists have been working their way through alternative ways of making art - very fast? Maybe painting and landscapes are just so much 'old hat'?

This morning I woke up with a different notion. It's linked to our treatment of the environment and our capacity to travel and the ability to make our own pictures and videos using cameras (and now phones).

It seemed to me that maybe one or more of the following have also had a really significant impact on the status of landscape art
  • photos and film from all over the world are now instantly available - and have devalued landscapes which are drawn or painted
  • increased overseas travel now means that nothing under the sun now has a novelty value - we're no longer interested in paintings of explorations
  • people move around a lot more than they used to and this has led to overall interest in recording - through drawing and painting - the place where they live reducing over time
  • there are lots of claims on our time - and getting out of the studio to paint is a time-consuming activity which can be difficult to fit in. Far easier to stay home and paint from photos?
  • our total disregard for our environment over many years (eg trash in the countryside/global warming and icecaps melting/etc) means that most people just don't value landscapes any more
  • a constant preoccupation with the new and new toys means that people value the old and the familiar less and less - until they're under threat of extinction.
Well that's what I came up with.

How about you - why has landscape art been downgraded in contemporary art circles?

I'd be having this discussion over on my new blog - but I need to build its audience before that can happen (although after 12 days it is now up to 73 subscribers!)!

Today's post on The Art of the Landscape is about the The development of landscape art and focuses on the different reasons why people painted landscapes. I must emphasis this is the plan of action for the project rather than the fulfillment of it. People who are interested in participating in the project should comment on that post.

The drawing at the top is one which has been developed from the sketch I did at Kew Gardens at the end of October - see Autumn at the Sackler Crossing, Kew Gardens. Subject to a few more titivations, this will be going on exhibition at the Barbican Library in the City of London next month.

The Art of the Landscape