What is Landscape?

This seems a very basic question and is something I thought a little about in the first exercise for the course – just what is a landscape?

Researching it a little further, the Encyclopaedia of Art History – http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/genres/landscape-painting.htm – has a concise history of Landscape Art. It states that it was an established genre in Chinese art by the 4th century, but it wasn’t until after the Renaissance era that it became established in the west – prior to that it had just been a background to the main theme of the painting. “In simple terms, until the early/mid-sixteenth century, landscape was included in pictures purely as a setting for human activity”. Hall (2008) comments that “Italian Renaissance painting sometimes uses the landscape background to reinforce a moral allegory – e.g. dark clouds on one side of the painting, clear sky on the other representing good and evil.

Describing how landscape painting developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, the  Encyclopaedia of Art History article includes  states “the real distinction between landscape as ornament and landscape as an autonomous genre, is not the presence of absence of human figures, but rather their size and function. When foreground figures take up most of the picture surface the landscape is mere background”. It continues “In true landscape painting, human figures – whether dispersed or foreground – exist merely to indicate scale and evoke the viewers empathy”. It goes on to describe how landscape became popular in the 19th century, becoming “a major pictorial genre for artists, patrons and collectors”. The article continues with descriptions of the Classical and Dutch schools and the influence these had on English Landscape painting. The article contrasts the work of Constable and Turner and describes developments up to the modern day with the work of Ben Nicholson and David Hockney.

Harris (2006 p175) describes how, by the 18th century, Landscape painting had become “elevated into an art form regarded as capable of conveying, symbolically, important religious beliefs, social ideologies and aesthetic values”. It became more idealised making the scene “”fit an idea of what should be shown, and how it should be shown”.

Interestingly he then goes on to describe the changes that occurred in the 20th century when landscape “became conjoined with processes of abstraction and subjective expressiveness”.He cites as an example of this Rothko’s late pink paintings as “suggestive of moonscapes” and that the flat bands of colour have been read as “symbols for Rothko’s interior ‘mental landscape’”. The painting can be seen at https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/313985405244660596/

or at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/12/arts/design/in-mark-rothko-from-the-inside-out-a-son-writes-about-his-father.html

Harris (2006 p176) concludes his article with consideration of works by Jeff Wall:

Dead Troops Talk (a vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986 from 1992 and also The Storyteller from 1986.

Dead Troops Talk can be seen at http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/jeff-wall/room-guide/jeff-wall-room-8

The Storyteller can be seen at  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/2006.91/

Harris considers that Wall splices “a modern form of history painting with representations of ugly landscapes reminiscent of those found, for instance, in contemporary landfill sites or on the dreary suburban fringes of cities”.

My thoughts

The Encyclopaedia of Art History article was interesting and informative on the development of landscape painting. But it was the paragraph in Harris (2008) that gave me most food for thought. Would I describe a Rothko as a landscape painting, probably not (in fact I would likely have dismissed the idea out of hand before reading the article), and what about the concept of it being part of Rothko’s “interior mental landscape”? But what this does is challenge my view of what a landscape is and how it is formed.

I found the comments on Jeff Wall’s images equally stimulating, I think that The Storyteller can easily be placed within a landscape tradition, Dead Troops Talking less easily. But I find the concept of splicing “a modern form of history painting with representations of ugly landscapes” a fascinating one. Does this preclude it being described as a landscape, is it a ‘part-landscape image’, is there even such a thing.

What this has done is broaden my conception of what a landscape image can or should be. In an earlier post I described Hockney’s views on the limitations of photography for landscape work and said that I would be interested in exploring this further. This research has taken my interest in this to a new level.

HALL, J., 2008. Dictionary of subjects and symbols in art. 2nd edn. Boulder: Westview Press.

HARRIS, J., 2006. Art history : the key concepts. London: Routledge.

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Exercise 1.4: What is a photographer?

Photography and  Photography and Artistic–Photography

De Zayas starts with a firm statement “Photography is not art. It is not even an art. Art is the expression of the conception of an idea. Photography is the plastic verification of a fact. The difference between Art and Photography is the essential difference which exists between the idea and nature”.

The essay is then divided into two parts – the first a discussion around the role of art “Art has abandoned its original purpose”. He considers the influence of art from other cultures on the modern artists of his day for example Picasso. He continues to state that “imaginative element has been eliminated from art” and that “all the elements for creative imagination have been exhausted”.
He developed his argument through a discussion of form and states “The reality of Form can only be transcribed through a mechanical process, in which the craftsmanship of man does not enter as the principal factor. There is no other process to accomplish this than photography.”

He then makes a distinction between art and photography “Art presents to us what we may call the emotional or intellectual truth; Photography the material truth. Art has taught us to feel emotions in the presence of a work that represents the emotions experienced by the artist. Photography teaches us to realise and feel our own emotions”.

 

De Zayas develops the second part of the essay with the statement “Photography is not Art,but photographs can be made to be Art”. And he then differentiates between what he defines as photography and artistic-photography “The difference between Photography and Artistic-Photography is that, in the former, man tries to get at that objectivity of Form which generates the different conceptions that man has of Form, while the second uses the objectivity of Form to express a preconceived idea in order to convey an emotion”.

He then makes what, to me, is a very contentious statement “Photography, and only Photography, started man on the road of the cognition of the condition of the phenomena of Form”.(For De Zayas photography is all about form).

He then describes the work of two different photographers, Steichen and Stieglitz with Steichen as an artist and Stieglitz as an experimentalist. “It would be difficult to say which of the two sides of Photography is the more important. For one is the means by which man fuses his idea with the natural expression of Form, while the other is the means by which man tries to bring the natural expression of Form to the cognition of his mind”.

 

Conclusion

I find De Zayas’ arguments interesting, but have difficulty with his basic tenet which is that only photography can truly represent form. this is a very “formalist” argument which seems to consider that only the shapes, lines et cetera of an image are important in conveying its message, the context both social and environmental, within which the photograph was taken, seems to be excluded from this argument. I find this a very difficult argument to sustain.

His distinction between artistic photography and experimental photography is, to me , a lot more interesting . I can see the arguments that he is making although once again I do not necessarily agree with the fact that the distinction between the two depends upon their representation of form .  I do believe that form is important in photography just as it is in painting and other artistic media . However I think it is but one of the elements that make up a compelling image.
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Exercise 1.3: Establishing conventions

For this exercise I tried to choose a wide range of landscape paintings, from those depicting daytime scenes to nocturnal ones, most were oils but at least one was watercolour. I also tried to select from across traditions from romantic landscapes to impressionism. These are my comments on the 12 paintings:

 

 

Llyn-y-Cau, Cader Idris, by Richard Wilson (1714–1782)

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 oil on canvas, 1774, 511 x 73 cm, Tate Britain

Image: Richard Wilson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

This is a painting of Llyn-y-Cau on Cader Idris in North Wales. It is painted in landscape format with a strong composition (according to The Tate website Wilson “heightened the precipice at the rear of the composition (Craig-y-Cau) to create a more simplified and balanced composition”.

There is a pale blue sky behind and the landscape is lit overall with little shadow. The horizon is placed on the centre line of the scene.

There are several figures within the scene but they are very small scale emphasising the mass of the mountain.

The Tate website states that “The ‘discovery’ of such rugged and uncultivated scenery was greatly stimulated by the taste for the sublime: previously it would have seemed only raw and disorderly”.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wilson-llyn-y-cau-cader-idris-n05596

 

 

Landscape in Suffolk by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788)

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Oil on Canvas, c1746 and 1750, 660 mm x 950 mm, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

Image: Thomas Gainsborough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Again this image is presented in landscape format showing a rural scene with a road meandering through and leading the eye in to the scene.

The clouds formations form a strong part of the landscape which is generally lit overall but with some strong shadow. The horizon is placed on the centre line of the scene.

There are figures on the lower right third of the scene, again they are very small scale emphasising the breadth of the landscape. The painting is also a study of light and how it plays on the scene.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum website describe the “loose brush strokes, swinging shapes, light scattered in irregular spots, and gently coordinated color” of the scene.

To me this painting conveys a peaceful rural scene with hints of danger from the dark shadows and clouds.

http://www.khm.at/de/object/c0f168ce89/

 

Fishermen at Sea by J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851)

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oil on canvas, 1796, 914 x 1,222 mm, Tate Britain

Image: J. M. W. Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another painting presented in landscape format with the horizon placed on the centre line of the scene.

This is an image of a seascape at night, strongly lit by a full moon. The fishing boat is placed on the lower third of the scene, its scale and fragility emphasised by the size and actions of the waves, that it is set at night enhances the sense of danger within the image. The power of nature is illustrated by the expanse of sea, action of the waves and the mysterious shapes of the rocks in the background. The Tate website describes this as “The sense of the overwhelming power of nature is a key theme of the Sublime. The potency of the moonlight contrasts with the delicate vulnerability of the flickering lantern, emphasising nature’s power over mankind and the fishermen’s fate in particular. The jagged silhouettes on the left are the treacherous rocks called ‘the Needles’ off the Isle of Wight.”

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-fishermen-at-sea-t01585

 

Montagne Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine by Paul Cézanne (1839–1906)

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oil on canvas, c1887, 670 × 920 mm, Courtauld Institute of Art

Image: Paul Cézanne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Again, presented in landscape format, but with no figures in the scene only countryside, buildings and a bridge. This is one of many studies Cezanne made of Mt Ste Victoire. In this image, the mountain view is framed by the tree, the shape of the branches following the contours of the mountain beyond. The undulating horizon is placed mostly on the centre line of the scene.

The Courtauld website states that Cezanne “turns this landscape into a study of form and colour” and that “Cézanne’s simplification of the landscape could be interpreted as a return to an era of balanced, harmonious form rather than complex ornamentation”.

Whilst the painting is a study of form and colour, I think that the overall impression left by the image is of calm and the celebration of the beauty of nature.

http://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/collection/impressionism-post-impressionism/paul-cezanne-mount-sainte-victoire-with-a-large-pine

 

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)

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Oil on canvas, 1889, 737 x 921 mm, MoMA, New York

Image: Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A painting in a very different style and with a different impact to the previous images. It is still presented in landscape format and has no figures in the scene only countryside, buildings and a mass of sky. There is a Cypress Tree placed on the left third of the and an horizon placed mostly on the lower part of the image. There is a huge sense of power and movement in the way that the sky has been painted, whereas the village below looks small and simple.

Van Gogh has included symbolism within this image, the MoMA website describing the Cypress tree ”as a bridge between life, as represented by the earth, and death, as represented by the sky, commonly associated with heaven. Cypresses were also regarded as trees of the graveyard and mourning”. It describes how the sky takes up almost three quarters of the scene and appears “turbulent, even agitated, with intensely swirling patterns that seem to roll across its surface like waves”.

The composition is described as “structured by his ordered placement of the cypress, steeple, and central nebulae”.

To me the whole image is a portrayal of the sheer power of nature and the fragility of human existence.

https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/vincent-van-gogh-the-starry-night-1889

 

 

Nocturne in Black and Gold The Falling Rocket by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903)

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oil on panel, 1875, 603 × 466 mm, Detroit Institute of Arts
Image: James Abbott McNeill Whistler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another nocturnal image, and unusually, painted in portrait format. The details are very difficult to make out and it is clear that this is not just a simple representation of a scene. The horizon seems very low in the painting and you can just make out shapes of figures at the bottom of the image.

This is a portrayal of a firework display in London in 1875, Floryan (2015) states that “the intangibility, both in appearance and theme, of the oil on panel was deliberate. The questions it conjures, the emotions it evokes, may differ from one viewer to another, and frankly, that’s the point”.

The painting was heavily criticised at the time, not least by John Ruskin who described it as “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”. But, according to Floryan (2015) “Whistler saw his paintings as musical compositions illustrated visually”.

FLORYAN, M., 2015 “Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket,” in Smarthistory, August 9, 2015, accessed July 7, 2017, https://smarthistory.org/whistler-nocturne-in-black-and-gold-the-falling-rocket/

 

Mousehold Heath, Norwich by John Crome (1768–1821)

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oil on canvas, c1818-1820, 1098 × 1810 mm, Tate Britain

Image: John Crome [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Back to a more traditional depiction of the countryside, once more in landscape format and with an horizon on the centre line, although the shape of the cloud formation adds a strong diagonal line to the top half of the painting.

As with the Gainsborough earlier, a central road meanders through the centre of the scene, leading the eye to the horizon. There is a small figure, with a dog, on the far right of the image, pointing to the centre of the scene. According to the Tate website “Crome advised a fellow painter ‘Breadth must be attended to… Trifles in Nature must be overlooked’. However, the ‘breadth’ of Crome’s great picture of Mousehold Heath was unacceptable to his contemporaries, and the painting remained unsold”.

The foliage at the front of the painting is rendered in fine detail and to me the impression this painting leaves is a celebration of the wonder of nature. According to the Encyclopaedia of Art History, Crome “gives us the very substance and being of the earth”.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/crome-mousehold-heath-norwich-n00689

http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/english-landscape-painting.htm

 

 

Buckenham Ferry, on the River Yare, Norfolk by Joseph Stannard (1797 – 1830)

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oil on panel, 1826, 400 mm x 610 mm, Yale Center for British Art 

Image: Joseph Stannard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Another painting from the Norwich School, this time with the horizon on the lower third of the painting. This image is about the people in the centre as well as the landscape itself. They, and their animals, are portrayed at a much larger scale than in previous paintings, making the viewer interested in what they are doing as well as looking at the environment they occupy. This is also a study of the sky and of the light as it falls on the different parts of the scene.

To me this is a romantic image of a tranquil, unhurried rural scene portraying people within their environment.

 

 

Greta bridge by John Sell Cotman (1782–1842)

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Watercolour, 1807, 230 × 330 mm, British Museum

Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)https://goo.gl/Pb4rAH

A third painting from a Norwich school artist, this time a portrayal of manmade structures (buildings and a bridge) within its natural setting. Again in landscape format, there are no people in this painting, the main focus is the bridge and the water flowing under it.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica states that Cotman “saw in nature the classic effect of precise, austere pattern and expressed this effect by eliminating detail through controlled, flat washes of cool colour”.

According to the British Museum website in the painting Greta Bridge “The watercolour is built up in distinct patches of restrained colour, held in a precise pattern of tone and line. These are the hallmarks of Cotman’s unique style. Here, the austere geometry of man-made elements is held together by the crisp shadows on the building and bridge. Even the sky is brought into line by a grey horizontal wash, echoing the river surface”.

To me this painting gives the impression of a calm, restrained scene. It is a study of the patterns created by man and the effect of them within their environment.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Sell-Cotman#ref257487

http://culturalinstitute.britishmuseum.org/asset-viewer/greta-bridge/eQEtglLls-6gNA?hl=en

 

 

Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet (1840–1926)

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 oil on canvas, 1872, 480 × 630 mm, Musée Marmottan Monet

Image: Claude Monet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although in landscape format, this image is closer to a square than any others I have looked at so far. The horizon has been set on the upper third of the image with a strong orange sun just above it on the upper right third. Small figures in boats can be made out in the lower and left centre of the scene, but the image mainly gives a placid feel, as the Encyclopaedia of Art History says, “The only evidence of life is the lazy action of the oarsman in the most sharply defined part of the composition”.

Monet’s concern with this painting is the interplay of light rather than any pictorial representation of the scene. The Encyclopaedia of Art History considers Monet’s “vision was entirely that of a landscape painter and his interest mainly in the effects of light rather than in any specific architectural features or the social significance of the manifestations of industry”. It also comments on the composition of the painting “The composition, though simple, like that of most Impressionist paintings, is nevertheless dramatically effective. The indistinct forms of the port run across the canvas, and a diagonal from the left edge through the three small boats emphasizes the positioning of the orange sun, while the middle small boat repeats the sun’s position in the alternative quarter. The effect is a dynamic balance in which the reflection of the sun in the water enlivens the scene”.

To me there is a sense of mysticism about the scene and it is a celebration of the colours and light in nature.

http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/paintings-analysis/impression-sunrise.htm

 

 

Glacier of Rosenlaui by John Brett 1831–1902

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Oil on canvas, 1856, 445 x 419 mm, Tate Gallery London

Image: John Brett [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a painting in the portrait orientation, although quite close to the dimensions of a square. The horizon is place on the upper third of the scene.

There are no people within the scene, and the image seems a topographical study of the rocks and formations, particularly the stones in the foreground. The Tate website concludes “Brett makes a meticulous study of different types of rocks and pebbles, offset by the dense blue-white folds of the glacier itself”.

Indeed, the painting, and Brett’s rendering of the intricate detail of the rocks attracts comment on the website of The Geological Society of London “This assemblage of stones is treated with an almost visionary clarity – so much so that we can even perform a rudimentary identification of the rock types concerned”.

I think that this painting is a detailed, almost photographic, study of the rock formation, but the way in which it has been included within the overall landscape gives it a sense of power and of the sublime.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime/john-brett-glacier-of-rosenlaui-r1105548

https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/Geoscientist/Archive/March-2009/Bretts-boulders

 

 

Passing Storm over the Sierra Nevada by Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902)

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Oil on canvas, 1870, 927 x 1397mm, San Antonio Museum of Art

Image: Albert Bierstadt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Albert Bierstadt is known for his spectacular rendition of landscapes of the American West. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica his paintings were ”immense in scale and grandiose in effect”. Passing Storm Over the Sierra Nevada is typical of his work with strong colours and dramatic lighting. This scene is rendered in landscape format and there are no figures present.

Bierstadt made sketches on site but finished his paintings in the studio and, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he “freely altered details of landscape to create the effect of awe and grandeur. His colours were applied more according to a formula than from observation: luscious, green vegetation, ice-blue water, and pale, atmospheric blue-green mountains. The progression from foreground to background was often a dramatic one without the softness and subtlety of a middle distance”.

This to me sums up Bierstadt’s landscapes, strong emphasis on the dramatic giving almost unnatural results.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Albert-Bierstadt

 

 

Commonalities

  • Most (although not all) paintings were in landscape rather than portrait orientation
  • Many were studies of light and/or colour
  • None were a simple representation of a scene, all (even the Bierstadt) were seeking to convey a sense of place rather than a topographical or pictorial representation
  • There were similarities in compostion between many of the paintings, a number of them observing the rule of thirds. Whoever the artist though, much thought had gone into the composition
  • Each artist had tried to bring out of the image a particular theme, the play of light in Monet, the musicality of Whistler, the patterns in Cotman, the detail of nature in Brett or the breadth and solidity of Crome for example

 

Photographs

The landscape photographs of Roger Fenton come to mind when considering these criteria,

Falls of the Llugwy, at Pont-y-Pair by Roger Fenton (1819-1869)

File:Falls of the Llugwy, at Pont-y-Pair MET DP107958.jpg

Albumen silver print from glass negative, 1857, 358 x 429 mm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Image: RogerFenton [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The lighting and composition of the scene shares much with a number of the landscapes above. According to the Met Museum Timeline of Art History “Fenton possessed a particular sensitivity for the play of light and atmosphere in the natural world”

The Met Museum website describes the image “By photographing from below the level of the upstream river, Fenton immersed himself deeply in the natural elements, intensifying the experience of the falls. The dynamic structure of Fenton’s composition-zigzagging bands of water, rock, vegetation, and sky-is also noteworthy, adding a dynamism to the rushing river while only hinting at the village buildings beyond”.

To me this shares similarities with Brett’s image, the concentration on the rocks at the front giving scale and scope to the landscape beyond. But you also feel immersed in the scene as with the Cotman and many of the others.

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/rfen/hd_rfen.htm 

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/265901

 

The Tetons and the Snake River by Ansel Adams (1902-1984)

File:Adams The Tetons and the Snake River.jpg

photograph 1942, National Archives https://www.archives.gov/

https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/picturing_the_century/port_adams/port_adams_img107.html

Image: Ansel Adams [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This shares the drama of the setting and the lighting with Bierstadt, but the composition has much more depth and feels much more open than Passing Storm over the Sierra Nevada.

I think it shares the same concern for the play of light as does Impression: Sunrise albeit in a very different setting and rendered in a completely different fashion.

 

Hedgerow by Richard Billingham (b 1970)

 

Image cannot be shown for copyright reasons but can be viewed at

https://www.artfund.org/supporting-museums/art-weve-helped-buy/artwork/10371/hedgerow-richard-billingham

This image shares the same compositional device with the Cezanne, with the tree framing the scene, but the actual scene I think owes more to the style of Constable or Gainsborough in its depiction of a scene.

 

Conclusion

This was a very interesting exercise. It would have been easy to choose twelve landscapes by renowned artists, all rendered in a similar style, which would have made it easy to list a series of commonalities. But I tried to find a very diverse series of paintings and see what they all had in common. As I stated above, I think the commonalities of great landscape images are:

  • somehow capturing the essence of a scene, whether it be light, colour, patterns, etc
  • the passion of the artist comes through (how many versions of Mt St Victoire did Cezanne paint?), they are not giving a simple pictorial representation, what else are they trying to convey
  •  conveying a sense of place, a unique scene

Exercise 1.2 Photography in the museum or in the gallery

Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View by Rosalind Krauss

At the start, Krauss considers two versions of the same image (Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake), one being an original photograph taken in 1868 by Timothy O’Sullivan; the second being a photolithograph copy of the first. She writes in a very complimentary fashion about the photograph “a model of the mysterious, silent beauty” and contrasts this with the lithograph which she describes as ”an object of insistent visual banality”.

She then goes on to explain her view of why the images are different; the lithograph “belongs to the discourse of geology and, thus, of empirical science”. Whereas she believes the original photograph within one aesthetic discourse demonstrates “exhibitionality”, the potential for display within an art setting.

She then describes the “trans formation of landscape after 1860 into a flattened and compressed experience of space spreading laterally across the surface”. She discusses the role this has in the view of photography as an aesthetic medium. But she then goes on to question whether the interpretation of O’Sullivan’s photo of tufa domes she made earlier was “a retrospective construction designed to secure it as art”. She notes that the images were originally stereoscopic photos and that O’Sullivan himself referred to them as Views and not Landscapes.

She considers an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, organised by Peter Galassi, called “Before Photography”. Galassi was attempting to legitimise photography as an aesthetic tradition in its own right. This legitimisation did not depend on “photographers had pretensions to be artists”. His argument was that “the perspective so prominent in 19th-century outdoor photography – a perspective that tends to flatten, to fragment, to generate ambiguous overlap …. was fully developed by the late 18th century within the discipline of painting”.

Krauss then considers this distinction particularly in relation to the works of Eugene Atget. Is his huge catalogue (oeuvre) of work within the aesthetic or scientific mode? And why – or why not?

I think the Krauss’s argument distils to a consideration of whether a photograph of a landscape can fulfil the criteria needed to allocate it to an aesthetic genre as opposed to an empirical or scientific classification of an image which simply records or catalogues something. She also argues that because on image meets the criteria of exhibitionality it does not mean that all work within that catalogue can be considered of the same aesthetic intent. She critiques some of the arguments for an art historical view of early photography “Having decided that nineteenth-century photography belongs in a museum, having decided that the genres of aesthetic discourse are applicable to it, having decided that the art historical model will map nicely onto this material, recent scholars of photography have decided (ahead of time) quite a lot”.

I found that the use of the two images of tufa domes at the start of the essay and enlightening introduction to the concept of “aesthetic” and “empirical” classification of images. The way in which she built the argument for certain photographs to inhabit the “aesthetic space” was interesting and persuasive.

There is an excellent summary of the article at https://mycourses.aalto.fi/pluginfile.php/444931/mod_folder/content/0/krauss%20tagg.pdf?forcedownload=1

Wolfgang Tillman’s exhibition at Tate Modern

    
I was keen to visit this exhibition because I had not seen Tillman’s work displayed in a gallery space, only occasional images within magazines. What was interesting about this exhibition, was the way in which it was hung, as Alistair Sooke said in the Telegraph (1) "he is, known, for instance, for his unusual approach to showing work, and here he does not disappoint” he goes on "The presentation is crucial, because it broadcasts an important message: Tillmans’s art is anything but stuffy or pompous. Rather, it’s all informality and casual flair".

I was also interested to see the influences upon Tillman’s work . Something which Sooke noticed In his Telegraph review "He is no stranger to art history, either", comparing Anders pulling splinter from his foot’ 2004 with the Spinario statue in the British Museum as well as the influence of Courbet and others.

But it was mainly the landscapes that I was interested in and which I will concentrate on in this review.   Munuwata Sky was a huge, long-exposure portrayal of an island and the sky above.The horizon is very low in the scene, and slightly off centre one can discern the outline of a small island. A good two thirds of the photograph are of the stars in the night sky, the long exposure giving them a blurred outline. But the whole image spoke to me of the vastness of space and nature, I think the island represents the tiny place that our civilisation plays within it all. 

Another night-time photograph was Sunset Night Drive. Set in a North American city at night showing mainly the lights of cars and advertising hoardings. Reds predominate In the darkness, adding to a sense of danger, which is reinforced perhaps with the large central advertising sign for Into the Woods and the somewhat scary face of the person staring out from it.The whole scene is buzzing with activity and excitement, yet to me it also speaks of the dangers of the night as well as the way we have constructed our cities to provide entertainment.. 

In Lampedusa, Tillmans captures the wreckage of boats used by refugees seeking to make the crossing to southern Italy. The centre of the image is of smashed up pieces of wood from the wreckage of such boats used by the migrants. WithIn the background are the discernible outlines of almost complete boats, one of which has painted on its prow what seems to be a pair of eyes. These seem to stare, almost accusingly, at the viewer. The near foreground consists of the sand or stone beach on which the piles of rubbish are stacked. The predominant colour here is of blue, the colour of the water and symbolic of coldness, but with the occasional splash of red from abandoned lifejackets.The image talks to me of the wreckage of lives, of risks taken to make a new beginning.

The State We’re In 2015 is a single image of the ocean occupying a vast space on the wall. With an extremely high horizon, the vast majority of the space is taken up with the patterns of waves and swirling motion of the sea.In its steel grey colours, the image is almost monochrome, but the cropping and composition talk of the vastness of the ocean and the dangers that lurk within. 

Tillman’s image put me very much in mind of the work of  Vija CelminsOcean Surface Woodcut from1992, which was displayed in an exhibition at the British Museum  The American Dream: pop to the present. Celmins displays what the Exhibition Catalogue (Coppel et al 2017 p206) describes as "the hypnotic, rhythmic heave of the ocean surface extending over a limitless expanse "

I think it is interesting to contrast the approach of two artists working in very different media and the end product of their works, but also what the artists interpret in their own works. Coppel et al (2017 p206) quote Celmins as saying that she seeks to hold together in her work "Stillness and movement, flatness and depth … In a delicate balance ".

Whereas Tillmans talks of “seeing the full might of the big wave movements, but then there are also lots of smaller and smaller waves, and they’re all battling with each other, clashing with each other, and you can sense that the surface is about to erupt at any spot, at any place and any time”. (3)

I was left wondering how much Tillmans’ image owed to the huge scale on which it was printed (2730 x 4100mm) whereas Celmins’ work was much smaller (225 x 305mm). I think that the main difference that this produced was that I needed to step back from the Tillman’s work to take it all in whereas Celmins’ print drew me in to look at the detail of the image.

I took a number of ideas from this exhibition and I think that one of the first things to try out will be a trip to the seaside to try to capture an image in the style of The State We’re In.

(1)  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/what-to-see/politics-lobsters-wolfgang-tillmans-2017-tate-modern-review/

(2)  COPPEL, S., DAUNT, C., TALLMAN, S., SELIGMAN, I., RAMKALAWON, J. and BRITISH MUSEUM, 2017. The American dream: pop to the present. London: Thames & Hudson, in collaboration with the British Museum.

(3)  http://canadianart.ca/features/wolfgang-tillmans/

Exercise 1.1: Preconceptions

I guess that when I thought about sketching a ‘landscape’ picture I immediately had a very
traditional concept of what it meant. So in true Claude Lorraine style I thought of a mass of trees to
one side, the ground disappearing off to a distant horizon. There are some people in the distance
providing a sense of scale to the image. There would probably be some buildings in the scene also
providing a sense of perspective. The image would be in traditional ‘landscape’ format with the
major points of interest located at the junction of the horizontal and vertical thirds of the picture. It
would be a very calm and beautiful scene rejoicing in the beauty of nature.
This is a very traditional view of a landscape, which I guess is not all that surprising given that I have
undertaken two History of Art modules as part of this course. I am very aware of other approaches
to the portrayal of a landscape, Whistler’s Nocturnes for example would be very different, as would
a surrealist landscape.

 

In terms of landscapes in photography then my first reaction would probably be to think of the black
and white prints of Ansel Adams and then later perhaps the work of someone like Fay Godwin.

Why did I choose to do this course? Well for a start I thought it would complement the other
modules that I have taken. I am interested in looking at how photography fits within a definition of
‘Art’ and I wanted to look at the different approaches taken by photography to landscape. I’ve also
been struck by something said by David Hockney when he was discussing landscapes. He talked of
the limitations of a landscape photograph and how it is a view from a fixed point, whereas humans,
generally, view a landscape by moving through it. So I am particularly interested in exploring this and
a possible photographic response.

Hockney Exhibition at Tate Britain – Photomontages

I have been intrigued in the past by comments made by David Hockney about photography. He has talked about landscape photos only being able to view the scene from a single point perspective whereas people generally walk through the landscape and see from multiple perspectives. He has also talked about the camera seeing scenes geometrically whereas people experience them psychologically. So I wanted to see the Hockney Exhibition at Tate Britain to see how he had approached these aspects. Hockney’s views on the limitations of photography are well summarised in the exhibition pamphlet which states that for him “the single-point perspective of photography could not communicate the experience of looking and living in the world. He described conventional photography as akin to ‘looking at the world from the point of view of a paralysed Cyclops – for a split second’. In contrast, he sought to create a photography that could accommodate different viewpoints as well as time and movement “.

Perhaps the best example in the exhibition of his attempt to overcome these limitations is Pearblossom Highway. This is a very large collage composed of a very large number of individual prints of different aspects of the scene. Some, especially of the sky, overlap the prints below which gives a depth to the scene. The individual photos comprising the collage were taken from different angles and under different lighting conditions. This all contributes to an image which resembles a photo taken from a single point, but which has more interest, inviting the viewer to examine all of the different aspects that make up the scene.

I found Pear Blossom Highway a fascinating image, although I did not think that it answered all the points that Hockney had made about the limitations of photography. I felt that it had, perhaps, made a start to addressing them, but that if they were really serious limitations then there was still a long way to go.

There is an interesting interview with Hockney talking about how and why he made Pear Blossom Highway on the Khan Academy website.

David Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain

I visited this exhibition, along with what seemed to be much of the population of London, because I particularly wanted to look at Hockney’s landscapes. I was also very interested in seeing at first hand, his photomontages, especially Pearblossom Highway, which I have written about elsewhere within this blog. I was interested to see all of Hockney’s work, but the sheer numbers of visitors allowed in at any one time made it very difficult to concentrate on the paintings or even get close to some of them.

For this blog, however, I will look specifically at his landscape work. The guide book issued by the Tate, in its introduction, says "From beginning to end, running through all the different types and periods of work is Hockney’s principal obsession with the challenge of representation: how do we see the world, and how can that world of time and space be captured in two dimensions?"

Most of the landscapes were in the later rooms of the exhibition, particularly in Room 8 "Experiences of Space" and Room 9  "Experiences of Place". The gallery guide notes how "in these works flatness collides with illusion of spatial depth. But above all, these are paintings through which the eye dances, drawn by a sensuousness of line and colour wet edges of viewpoints fold into and across each other."

A good example from the "Experiences of Space" room is Nichols Canyon 1980.

In a similar style in "Experiences of Place"  is Going up Garrowby Hill 2000, here the gallery guide talks about Hockney creating "An illusion of depth by the use of the foreground plain (plane?) on which were arrayed objects, whether bails (bales?) of wheat or small desert bushes " .

I think that these paintings provide a good example of one of Hockney’s approaches to dealing with perspective In a two-dimensional art form. The shapes and lines within the painting give a real sense of movement whilst the colours add energy. The extremely high horizon line in Going up Garrowby Hill gives a real sense of the scenery enveloping the viewer, and the curves of the road as it goes up the hill leads one into the picture and gives a sense of depth . This is described by Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times(1) as "Here landscape is abstracted into interlocking arabesques of crimsons, purples, lush greens. Edges of viewpoints fold into and across each other, roads wind through luminous terrains where flatness collides with illusions of spatial depth".

It was interesting to see how Hockney had approached this concept of representation and perspective within landscape paintings. Some of these methods are not available to the photographer, but some, as with his photomontage, are.

I’m not one of Hockney’s greatest fans, but I do find his questioning of perspective and how he deals with the issue within painting very interesting.It was a great opportunity to see so much of his work in one place, it’s such a shame there were so many others enjoying it at the same time.

I spent some time studying his photomontages, particularly Pearblossom Highway, and will write about this separately.

(1)  https://www.ft.com/content/27840aaa-ef1d-11e6-ba01-119a44939bb6?mhq5j=e1

Beyond the Great Wave – Hokusai Exhibition at the British Museum

I visited this exhibition out of interest in Hokusai’s work in general but also for his landscape views in particular. The Great Wave is known throughout the world but Hokusai’s designs have also influenced contemporary photography. “Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri (c.1832) from the portfolio, The Thirty-six Views of Fuji”,  which I saw at the exhibition, was the inspiration for Jeff Wall’s image A Sudden Gust of Wind. I wrote a little about these two images on my previous Art History course.

Woodcut, Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri (c.1832) from the portfolio, The Thirty-six Views of Fuji, by Katsushika Hokusai Hokusai [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In East Asian traditional art, perspective was portrayed by placing distant objects high in the composition, an example of this, Mt Fuji  by Kano Isen’in Naganobu was displayed early on in the exhibition.

© Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) https://goo.gl/3iDtkT

It was, however, interesting to see how European portrayal of perspective influenced Japanese art. Two of the first images in the exhibition were Spring View Enoshima painted by Hokusai in 1797 and a portrayal of the same scene in Shichirigahawa Beach by Shakur Kokan. Whilst, at this time Hokusai is utilising a more traditionally Asian composition, Kokan was the leading European influenced artist of the day. Kokan used deeply receding perspective and painted the scene to look like an oil painting. It was interesting to note the differences between the two, and also to see how Hokusai’s style developed over the years.

Hokusai is now very well known for his series Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji which show how the form of Mount Fuji varies from place to place (indeed I mentioned one of them above). It is interesting to look closely at Hokusai’s style, in Sazai Hall at the temple of the five hundred  visitors to the temple admire the view of Mt Fuji.

© Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) https://goo.gl/tOfqZt

 

The converging lines of the architecture encourage the viewer of the image to do the same. In The Great Wave Hokusai plays with European style perspective and draws the viewer to observe Mt Fuji from out at sea through the curve of the great wave.

One aspect of the exhibition which gave cause for thought was Hokusai’s series Wondrous Views of Famous Bridges in Various Provinces from around 1834, for example the Old View of the Boat Bridge at Sanofi in Kozuke Province and The Suspension Bridge on the Border of Hida and Etchu Provinces.

© Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) https://goo.gl/E6Ma87

Perhaps this could be the inspiration for a series of landscape photos I could take of local bridges. I’ll have to see how this idea goes as the course progresses.

Curator’s Talk at the British Museum – Beyond the Great Wave

I was fortunate in being able to book a ticket for the Curator’s Introduction on the day that The Great Wave exhibition opened at the British Museum. The curator of the exhibition, Timothy Clark opened by describing Hokusai’s fundamental belief that the older he gets the greater the artist he will become. This was a very encouraging statement, not least because it seemed to be true, Hokusai’s later works are seen by many as his best.

The exhibition had been designed in six themes

  • Hokusai from twenty to sixty
  • Mt Fuji and The Great Wave
  • Worlds Seen
  • Worlds Imagined
  • Hokusai’s World
  • Immortality (the last three years

From the early work Fast Skiffs Navigating Large Waves, a woodblock from 1804-1807, was a forerunner of The Great Wave. Clark described how the works were very influenced by European ideas, a low horizon, chiarascuro and the framing all followed the European norm. He believed that this could have been brought about by a commission that Hokusai received from Dutch visitors to paint scenes of everyday life.

Clark also commented on The Great Wave which he described as emblematic for the power of the sea and the power of nature as a whole. The foam of the wave forms tentacles and the whole scene seems to be one of suspended animation – the moment before the wave is about to drop.

Under the Wave off Kanagawa, colour woodblock, by Katsushika Hokusai
© Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)  https://goo.gl/j0KRC0

 

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