There is probably no other theme in Fine Art being explored more than landscape. And by that I mean any form of -scape like seascape, cityscape, home(interior)-scape, sky-scape, in-space (soul-scape) and more…To be precise in terminology I would choose a term of living space; a visual comment made by different means on what’s the man’s environment, how he deals with it and where is the borderline behind which the consciousness of -self ends and the reality of -scape begins.
Our identity as humans generates from contrasting our existence with that of flora and fauna, objects made by us and from space within which we function. Our living space is so evident, so immediate and omnipresent that in most cases we don’t give it any thought at all reducing limitless stimulants coming from it to those pleasure – giving and life-supporting (protecting) only. It’s artists’ (photographers, filmmakers) occupation to notice and record what’s the contemporary living space and that comment should go far beyond an aesthetic value (read: please dear colleagues – stop painting “pretty” pictures for their own sake) and ideally – touch a quintessence of an appearance, purpose and meaning.
It’s considerably easier to state than to realize as our surroundings, if given a real thought, appear far too complex and intangible and yet continue to change with an extreme speed and on all levels. The phenomenon gets complicated even more when we consider time as a fourth dimension and spatial-temporal unity which prevents us from, for example, seeing the same landscape from many different viewpoints at the same time (which could considerably increase our chances of getting a more genuine picture of it).
Another issue is that of our identity as individuals – as each of us needs to know his spatial identity (where, how, why do I live?, have I got a close/loose bound with my living space ?, how easy/difficult do I find moving places/countries and to integrate? , and so on) to have a full view on “who I am” . Consequently, we tend to project our feelings/thoughts/memories on what we see around so – a particular -scape appears to us not as it really is (in its substance, matter) but as we make ourselves to see it at the very moment.
Rene Magritte did a witty comment on that painting his Human Condition (1940) (right). The picture is a question and an answer in one: Is it what you paint something that’s really out there? Yes and no – you’ re giving a representation/ concept but it actually makes you see the whole view through your point (limited and depending on a momentary response), which conceals rather than reveals what’s there in actual fact. It could work when done with the phenomenological method of suspension (“bracketing” all preexisting knowledge and describing only contents of consciousness) and reduction (reducing the contents of consciousness to the essential features, the meanings), but “going back to things” it’s only a half way since an artist has to reinvent those “things” visually and to go back to his viewer, to make him think/feel and live differently.
Approaches to landscape vary depending on an epoch and a particular artist’s influences; one can refer to dozens of examples without even researching the art history more thoroughly: simplified and symbolic Christian portraits of a garden/paradise (eg. Ravenna mosaics), Pieter Brueghel’s narrative views, mystical work of Caspar David Friedrich, Impressionists‘ light-scapes, swirling with exotic energy canvases by Paul Gauguin, passionate in-scapes of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne experimental battlefields from which modern art takes its roots, Cubists’ shape-scapes, Frank Auerbach intimate assimilations of well-know environment and so on, and so on…
Apropos art history – it’s worth mentioning that Braque and Picasso, following Cezanne had chosen landscape as their first target in breaking all preexisting rules in painting i.e. one-point perspective and illusionism as a way of rendering dimensional space (I’m referring to a common fact that the Picasso’s landscape series from Horta de Ebro has been recognised as a first conscious phase of cubism, yet Braque was first with his L’Estaque -scapes from 1908) …the most explored subject matter had become a Muse of the most rebellious discoveries… This is a point where one should reflect on the living space as a philosophical and spiritual concept rather than a literally understood reality of “what’s out there”..
Can landscape be an epiphany – also (or – first of all) for non-religious people? ) Or – could it be a gate beyond – a passage without which we wouldn’t be able to access ourselves?… I suppose that no admirer of Andrei Tarkovsky’s movies would have any doubt about it. But what is it – that substantial meaning of a landscape? I think it may be easier to grasp by coming back to a notion of spatial identity…Lets say we had lost all imaginable sensation of our living space, our territory – what we are left with? Depending on our memory and psyche – strength we would have to deal with anxiety, minor, major or extreme sense of alienation, with identity disorders and more – you name it… Our organic and man-made surroundings seem to constitute our “being” by human-environmental interdependence, by a very fact that we cannot function in a void.
But we tend to be tragic creatures – aren’t we?…
In my humble opinion the whole history of contemporary, post-modern humanity is more or less a story of becoming and being alienated from one’s living space, making a sort of philosophy/life-method from that estrangement and trying to fight against it (well, sometimes).
French existentialism tried to deal with it in the middle of the past century but we may need a new theory on alienation for a new millennium. Hundreds of thousands (millions?) migrate each year facing quite real challenges of making private/own out of foreign…Tens of millions enjoy browsing the Net each hour – that most powerful school of solitude…to be willingly exposed and interacting with a vast, global yet anonymous community (as I’m doing now) and to remain on one’s own, unmoved in his/her chosen degree of isolation…that’s pretty interesting and chilling phenomenon. The Web has become yet another unavoidable -scape, very different from others – virtual, tangible and intangible at the same time, breaking spatial-temporal rules and countless borders. There is a representative group of artists making good use of that space and functioning within it but I find it difficult to think about anyone who comments on it as a fully aware outsider performing comparatively traditional art of painting in the real world (please let me know if you can give such an example of an artist).
Summing it all up I would consider art handling landscape theme with an insight and intelligence as a profoundly contemporary experience, asking about the real identity of today’s man and his place/location within the world.