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Art & Nature: A Call to Action

With the recent flooding in Calgary, the oil spill in Quebec and heat waves in other parts of the world, there’s been much recent discussion that’s gotten me thinking about our environment. And of course, I like to relate it to visual art.

Silver Lake Operations #1
Edward Burtynsky, Silver Lake Operations #1 (Lake Lefroy, Western Australia, 2007) Image: artobserved.com

If you look at the art-historical relationship between humankind and the natural environment, it’s clear in early art that for centuries humans were dominated by nature. For example, the perspective taken in the cave paintings at Lascaux, France and in the statues and dieties made by early civilizations to encourage healthy crops or weather. Humankind was at the mercy of nature, which was a force to be reckoned with and on which people’s livelihood, and often survival, depended.

Cave paintings from Lascaux, France. Image:pellegrino.de

Cave paintings from Lascaux, France. Image:pellegrino.de

This changed in the Renaissance. Although the concept of the pinhole camera was first discovered by the Chinese and known to Aristotle, by the 15th century, it was again discovered and refined by Renaissance artists. This was at the time that the likes of Brunelleschi and Leonardo da Vinci were refining the art of geographical perspective.

Brunelleschi’s experiment with perspective. Image: maitaly.com More HERE

Suddenly, artists had incredible tools at their disposal. They could transfer a view from outdoors directly onto a flat surface. It was a pivotal moment in art, and the one by which our relationship to the natural world was changed. Artists could literally stand above nature. With photography, they would soon hold it in their hands.

Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper. Image: tiefenbrunwhone.com

Now of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that we are not that different, and certainly not greater than nature. We must re-recognize our unity with nature. Artist Edward Burtynsky emphasizes the distance between what the eye sees as beauty and the brain knows as destruction. By contrast, James Turrell’s open-air light projections show us that nature is art. So do Andy Goldsworthy’s incredible sculptures.

James Turrell, Aqua De Luz, Tixcacaltuyub, Yucatan, Photo by Ed Krupp. Image: talbotspy.com

Andy Goldsworthy, Rowan Leaves & Hole. Image: morning-earth.org

Here’s an amazing essay on trees, by Hermann Hesse from Brainpickings.org. It’s really worth taking a few minutes to read. As he says, “Trees are sanctuaries.”

Not only is our planet warming,  but it’s heartwrenching to see oil spilling and bees dying, and nothing significant being done. We know the problem. It’s up to us to do what we can to get a solution. One way to do this in Canada is to contact your local political representative and tell them that we want stricter pesticide controls. We want assistance to organic farmers and tighter regulations for agribusiness like Monsanto. We want the environment to be a Federal government priority.

I do.

Do you?

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