7 Apr 2009

Art Against Wild: Shepard, Coming Home to the Pleistocene, Ch.8, subsection 5

Paul Shepard

Coming Home to the Pleistocene

Chapter VIII: Wildness and Wilderness

Subsection 5

Art Against Wild

Is wilderness landscape?
In this sense wilderness becomes a series of scenes before which spectators pass as they would the galleries of a museum or a kind of scenery for souvenir photographs that we describe to ourselves in a language invented by art critics. (138c)
Western landscape painting began with 15th century perspective painters. But we see it in Neolithic art at the end of the Pleistocene era. Their small size gives the impression of things happening at a distance. The viewer seems detached from an objectified scene. People of this era must have begun to feel outside of nature. We see this much later in history too, in Roman mosaics and in Renaissance paintings that strive for "distancing."
It was the same classical rationality that made possible the lines of latitude and longitude and straight roads across North America, routes based on survey rather than old trails. (139b)
Our present attitudes about nature span back "into European and Mediterranean cultures and the ideology of their organized religions." There emerged a "linear/mathematical perspective and the representation of places framed as pictured objects." These factors "removed the observer rather than connecting him to his surroundings." In landscape art, we step back from nature. (139c)

Technical advances converted "the old two-dimensional, asynchronic world (in which different events in time can appear in the same picture) into the Renaissance eye-world composed of repeating units of space and time. (139d) Caravaggio isolated the moment, "the instant exposure in a temporal world of constant flux." (140a)

Landscape came most to be objectified and distanced in photography. (140c) Its makes the land surreal and isolates us from it temporally and spatially. They turn nature into nothing more than images.

The surrealism of photography confuses reality with fantasy. It is a schizophrenia resulting from "centuries of splitting art from its origins in religion." But
Wildness cannot be captured on film; wildness is what I kill and eat because I, too, am wild. (141b)
Around fifteen thousand years ago, art began simulating and representing nature for the sake of "narrative and mythic referral." It presented us with reality. But art developed away from this purpose. The "abstract characteristics of color, form, movement, symmetry, and line became reality."
In the end painting represents painting, and any object in nature, any scene or landscape (that is, any place), may be taken as an abstraction representing only brushstrokes, signs in which nothing is signified." (141d)
Art has abstracted nature. But this causes the masses of people not interested in art-critique to regard environmentalism to be an elitist endeavor.
Nature has been oversold for four centuries as an esthetic as opposed to religious experience. (142a)

Shepard, Paul. Coming Home to the Pleistocene. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998.

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