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Landscape and Art

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Landscapes and art can interact in many ways: J√≥hannes S. Kjarval (1885–1972), arguably the greatest Icelandic painter of the twentieth century, fully appreciated this, and commented on it pictorially with the humour and genius for which he is known. Landscapes can, first of all, inspire the artist, even though what they inspire her to create need not belong to landscape art. Landscapes can also be art; that is to say, landscapes can be experienced, or appreciated, as works of art. Further, landscapes can be made into works of art; in recent decades, for instance, some artists have wrapped stones and trees and bits of coastline in various fabrics to create works of “environmental” art. And landscapes can also be the subject matter of art; the kind of art that we call “landscape art” or, simply, “landscape”.

One could talk about any or all of these interactions—and perhaps about others—under the heading of “landscape and art”. In the present paper I will restrict my attention to landscape paintings, i.e. paintings that have landscape as their subject matter.

Landscape paintings are paintings of landscapes. But what is a painting of a landscape? One might think that if a given painting is a painting of a landscape, then there must be a particular landscape that it is a painting of. This is indeed usually true of the realistic type of landscape paintings familiar from the 19th and early 20th centuries, though not restricted to this period.

According to a common, but naive, account, a work of this kind typically comes about like this: Here sits the artist with his paints and canvas. There lie the mountains, trees, lakes, lava fields, clouds, and so on. From where the artist sits, these natural objects present a certain scene, a landscape. There is, in other words, a certain way that they look. This look—their appearance—would be available to anyone with normal vision sitting in the place of the artist; it is objective; it is “how the things really look”.6 What the artist does is to transfer to his canvas the look of these various natural objects; thus does he create realistic, pictorial images of them.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5848/CSP.0891.00006

Publication date: January 1, 2006

More about this publication?
  • Art, Ethics and Environment: A Free Inquiry Into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature
    The aim of this collection is to bring together different trends in thinking about nature and value that are distinctive of these changing moods in art and philosophy and to juxtapose them with some other ways of thinking about these issues, such as economics and religion. The authors include Holmes Rolston III, Antje von Graevenitz, Roger Pouivet, Eric Palazzo and Emily Brady. The essays and artworks in this volume derive from the conference Nature in the Kingdom of Ends held in Selfoss, Iceland, on June 11th and 12th 2005.
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