Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Landscape Genre within Modernist Photography

Over on Making A Mark I recently posted my Reflections on landscape painting after 1900 - which generated a fair old discussion.

One of my reflections from doing my research into the development of landscape art was as follows
I really don't understand how the painting of landscapes can be such an enduring form of art across cultures, continents and centuries - until we get to the 20th century. In the last 50+ years, landscape art just doesn't seem to be produced by the sort of contemporary artists who get into major galleries, have exhibitions in the important museums and sell for big sums in the auction houses.
I suggested a number of reasons why this might be the case - one of which was linked to our treatment of the environment and our capacity to travel and the ability to make our own pictures and videos using cameras (and now phones).

One of the nice things about this new blog is that people are writing to tell me about different aspects of landscape art - and also responding to points made.

This morning I got an email from Alan Mynett who is a retired college lecturer and keen photographer who doesn't have a blog but does have an interesting website. Do take a look at the various different types of photography he has used.

WaterLine (Venice 2009) - A handmade concertina book of pictures taken in Venice.
copyright Alan Mynett
I have lately become much more interested in drawing, painting and printmaking. As a photographer, landscape never interested me much, but I'm finding it much more amenable as a subject in these other media, so your new blog on landscape is extremely interesting to me.

It was the latest one on Kenneth Clark's Landscape into Art which triggered a memory. Clark's classification was taken up (expanded and explicitly acknowledged in their Introduction) by Estelle Jussim and Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock in their book 'Landscape as Photograph' (1985), Yale University Press:

the chapter headings are
  1. Landcsape as Artistic Genre
  2. Landscape as God
  3. Landscape as Fact
  4. Landscape as Symbol
  5. Landscape as Pure Form
  6. Landscape as Popular Culture
  7. Landscape as Concept
  8. Landscape as Politics and Propaganda
Sadly, this book has long been out of print, though I was fortunate to salvage a slightly tatty copy when my college library had a clear-out just before I retired from teaching.

I mention this simply because you raised the query of why there is relatively little landscape work in the work of those artists who make up the mainstream Modernist canon.

The rise of photography, and the development of such a strong landscape genre within Modernist photography (Adams, Weston, Minor White etc etc in the States) may be significant.

Equally, though, it may have more to do with the switch of emphasis from objectivity (start with the external to cast light on the internal) to subjectivity (start from the internal and find a suitable visual expression - not necessarily originating in the external or in traditional materials and methods) in the early 20th century. In this last respect, photographers have very limited options, photography being ultimately rooted in the external.
Does anybody have anything to add? What's your view?



Anonymous said...

Tate modern held an exhibition of Per Kirby's work last year and he's certainly a painter of landscapes. This group has a aninterest in contemporary art practice based on landscape and place - including painting. So perhaps it's not all disappeared.

Making A Mark said...

My point was specifically about landscape PAINTING rather than landscape art. From a quick scan of the website you highlighted it seems to me that it's about art in the landscape rather than about painting per se.

I'm afraid I've never heard of Per Kirby and Google seems to not know of him either.

Anonymous said...

sorry misspelt (Cant cut and paste into your comments box)
Per Kirkeby...
and I have posted other contemporary Painters on your other blog...
including Lucy Jones, Christopher LeBrun, Michael Porter, John Virtue.
By the way it's a great discussion...

Papierflieger said...

Would landscape as a projection qualify as a separate point in the list ?

As to Per Kirkeby I can´t resists to say that Kirkeby dispised landscape painting as a subject for amateurs.. in no way he´d appreciate his works to be read as landscapes or even to be called a landscape painter.


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