Sunday, December 6, 2009


Ilse Bing, Me and the Elevated, 1938

Bing's artistic photography began to appear in Germany in 1929. Soon she was ranked with such stars as Man Ray, Cartier-Bresson, and Brassai. For her devotion to the Leica camera, she was dubbed "Queen of the Leica," and in her later yrars, she stopped working in protest of the publishing industry ignoring the work of women. Her final book, Photography Through the Looking Glass was published by posthumously by Abrams in 2006.

Above: Charles Sheeler, American Landscape, 1930

A Conversation:

Interested art historian: What genre of painting is most frequently found in American homes?

Art dealer: The landscape, especially those with horizontal orientation.

What, then, are the visual details that arise when you think of "landscape?"

The sight of giant bulldozers and a broad area of land? Or several specific acres, perhaps, and the curved lay-out for streets, rolls of dark sod, trees with roots bundled in burlap, awaiting autumn planting, and spring flowers set out along a sculptured wall?

The names of the giants in that field may come to mind: Frederick Law Olmstead (Central Park, NYC, 1859), or cultural geographers Yi-Fu Tuan (topophilia and "a sense of place"), Ian L. McHarg (Design with Nature), Lawrence Halprin (Sea Ranch), and Bill Tischler (Farming at the Water's Edge,1995).

And we have other uses for that word: the political landscape, the investment landscape and, of course, the literary landscape. But more on that later. There is an alternate interpretation.

Jan van Goyen Windmill by a River, 1642
I think of the art genre given to us by the Netherlands Dutch and Flemish painters of the seventeenth century and what came after them. From their term, landschap,we adopted the name for this particular art genre, the landscape.

Landscape painting can reveal the deepest emotions about a place. Art critic Roberta Roberts quoted the French Impressionist Paul Cezanne as saying about Provence:

"Were it not that I am deeply in love with the landscape of my country, I should not be here."[NY Times January 27, 2006, p. B29]

Often notoriously sentimental , the landscape exudes pride of place, often is guilty of promoting nationalism, and offers a reason to return there, perhaps to paint en plein air. The landschaps can also be critical, more a nineteenth and twentieth century phenomenon, especially in images of urban centers like New York City. These we might call urban landscapes or city-scapes.

Thomas Kinkade (b. 1958, Placerville, CA) is one of the most popular and widely-collected painters in America. He has galleries are in every major city. My humanities class of twenty-somethings, thoroughly introduced to truly fine art, chose this artist, whose images were displayed in the Carmel, California Gallery (2001), as the artist whose work they would most like to take home. Kinkade calls himself "the painter of light."

I have not yet recovered.

Kincade, Viva Las Vegas, 2009

The landscape artist follows an aesthetic path to a rendition and interpretation of a farm and orchard, a valley, a vista of mountains or long urban boulevard. The area of interest may be the Hudson Valley, San Francisco's hilly terrain or farmland in Kansas or Alabama. Many landscape paintings are linked with food through fields, beaches and orchards, markets and picnics, and numerous other food environments, all within the context of the painting's time frame and locale.
Below we see a mountain in France, a rural American grocery, an urban cafe, and a seaside blueberry field.

First, Paul Cezanne's favorite subject, La Montaigne Sainte-Victoire (1900), ever visible from his studio in Provence. His attachment to this landscape has been called a love affair and an obsession.

Wols (b. Otto Wolfgang Schulze (Germany, 1913-1951) The City, 1940s [watercolor]

William Christenberry (b. 1936) Colman's Grocery Store near Greensboro, Alabama, 1972

Richard Estes (b. 1936) Afternoon Tea in the Village, 2003

Below: Alex Katz (Brooklyn, 1927) Blueberry Field No 1, 1959

But, then, such a sculpture as David Smith's Hudson River Landscape, 1951, evokes a sense of place without a clear representative image, only the suggestion of images, especially fish and hills.

Above: David Hockney (Bradford,England, 1937) Woldgate Woods, 2009

Below: Artist David Hockney painting in East Yorkshire in 2006

Landscape in Music:

A fine example from contemporary music is Eric Ewazen's (b. 1954) Roaring Fork Quintet for Wind Instruments, based on a Colorado landscape, the Roaring Fork River in the Rocky Mountains. The piece premiered in 1993 :
(1) White Water Rapids
(2) Colombines (Snow Mass Lake)
(3) At theSummit (B
uckskin Pass)

Three other examples: Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) wrote Finlandia, Tapiola (1926), and The Karelia Suite (1893) - all examples of his intensely romantic nationalism. The Finnish landscape often served as inspiration for his music. Avant-garde composer John Cage (b Los Ageles, 1912-1992) created "In A Landscape," one of his most accessible works for solo harp or piano, 1939. The other is Aaron Copeland (1900-1990), who loved the drama of the American landscape. Copeland used polyrhythm and polyharmony, featured woodwinds and percussion in works such as "Appalachian Spring" [Ballet for Martha] and "El Salon Mexico," both inspired by the landscapes in their titles.

Landscapes in Poetry and Fiction:

Walter Scott's Waverly Novels, especially Rob Roy (1817) which spread before us the richness of the old Scottish countryside.

Ivan Bunin's warmly hospitable Russian steppe in summer, with the memorable scent of
antonovka apples growing there.

James Agee's bleak but meticulously detailed description of a fenced-in grave yard near a Southern small town in the closing section of
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1939),

Scholars of African literature have responded strongly to that continent's varied landscapes.
Professor Christie Loflin, Emory University, wrote:

The desert is an essential feature of indigenous African writing from arid countries and yet it is often not often directly described in such writing. It is the desert that gives the hunters their magical powers in the Malian epic about Sundiata Keieta , the 13th century founder of the Malian empire; it is the veld that refuses to yield food enough in South African writer Sindwe Magona's Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night (1991, 1994).

And remember those lines that you learned in school: "There is a certain slant of light"? In another poem, "The Angle of Landscape," Emily Dickinson caught what is often called "the defining moment," that instant when the meaning of an experience, an encounter [And art is an encounter] arises, clearly.

The Angle of a Landscape-

That every time I wake -

Between my Curtain and the Wall
Upon an ample Crack-

Like a Venetian - waiting -
Accosts my open eye -

Is just a Bough of Apples -
Held Slanting, in the Sky -

And Wallace Stevens, born in Reading, PA, 1879, and author of major American poems like "On Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" and "Emperor of Ice Cream," wrote "Six Significant Landscapes" (found in his book, Harmonium, 1916). Stevens expresses his irritation about the the old, divisive quarrel between Apollonian light and rationalism and the Dionysian passion of poetic creativity.

An old man sits
in the shadow of a pine tree
in China.
He sees larkspur,

Blue and white.

At the edge of the shadow
Move in the wind,
His beard moves in the wind.
The pine tree moves in the wind.

Thus water flows
Over weeds.

Of another poet, Bennington College professor Bonnie
Costello commented that, "
While T. S. Eliot and Ezra
Pound were reading the classics, William Carlos
was looking at pictures."
We assume that many were landscapes because his
visual capacity is considerable, and with a powerful/tender
touch of Zen Haiku:

so much depends
a red wheelbarrow
glazed with rain water
beside the white chickens

There are far too many authors oriented to the land -
Willa Cather and My Antonia, for example - to cover
here, but there are two contemporary authors, about
the same age, who use the landscape, the setting of their
tales, to create the narrative tension which drives the
plot and gives dimension to the characters.

Indeed, for them, the landscape may be an unrelenting
adversary. A lonesome barrier to be confronted as long
as they are alive.
Cormac McCarthy's The Road, 2006, which won him the
Pulitzer Prize in 2007. Previous works include The Crossing
and No Country for Old Men, both adapted successfully as
The Road has just been produced as a film,directed by
Hillcoat. Film locations included landscapes in Louisiana, Oregon and
Pennsylvania. McCarthy was born in Providence, RI, in1933.

And Barry England, born in London, England, in 1934, has written
Figures in a Landscape (1968), which also was produced as a film
in 1970, directed by Joseph Losey
. Barry England did military
service in Asia, where he did his share of hiking over
rough terrain,
an important qualification in his novel
. He is best known as a playwright
and author whose work appears in British magazines

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