Nature paints us the prettiest pictures day after day. So why is it artists feel compelled to create their own impressions, using nature as inspiration?
Surely, no one can imagine they can improve on the divine art forms that nature provides.
Yet, since cave man times, we have been inspired to record our stories using nature as our stimulus.
Perhaps we have always understood the deep connection between nature and art.
Environmental art has become somewhat of a movement. It often is designed to shine the light on environmental issues. However, its origins are found in Palaeolithic cave paintings which depicted aspects of nature.
Not only were the cave paintings showcasing nature, they incorporated nature. The pigments used were made from natural sources like plants and rocks.
Skip ahead to the Romanticism era that began in the late 18th century. This period celebrated the awe and wonder of nature, usually in the form of landscape paintings.
ARTISTS INSPIRED BY NATURE
Post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh understood fully the importance of painting onsite to develop a deep connection with nature.
In letters to his brother, Theo, he wrote about the importance of being in nature for artists and claimed they did their best work when in the country.
Sometimes I long so much to do landscape, just as one would for a long walk to refresh oneself, and in all of nature, in trees for instance, I see expression and a soul, as it were.
Another favourite, Impressionist Claude Monet, also had a deep and powerful connection to nature and understood the need to spot nature’s hidden treasures.
In a letter to his friend, Eugène Boudin he said:
It is beautiful here [in Etretat, Normandy], my friend; every day I discover even more beautiful things. It is intoxicating me, and I want to paint it all – my head is bursting.. ..I want to fight, scratch it off, start again, because I start to see and understand. I seems to me as if I can see nature and I can catch it all.. ..it is by observation and reflection that I discover how. That is what we are working on, continuously..
NATURE IN ART – LAND ART
While there are still many artists who want to recreate the beauty of nature, many others focus on protecting her. They use their art to highlight the devastation of human pollution and environmental harm.
Some have gone back to the cave man roots and create land art. Land art represents a strong connection with nature. It uses natural materials to create works inspired by the landscape in which they are created. They often have an ephemeral quality, intended to last for only a short time. Artists are in fact manipulating nature to turn it into human-made art.
By using natural elements, and handling them, the artists become more closely connected to nature. They share their work to help its viewers become more engaged with the environment.
British sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy, is known as the first to start the worldwide craze of rock balancing. He started creating art using anything he could find in his surroundings. He did it with rocks, used leaves to create patterns and even moulded icicle formations.
His artworks, at the mercy of nature’s elements such as wind, temperature and growth, are designed to be temporary. They celebrate the impermanence in all things.
WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM NATURE IN ART
The benefits of using nature in art go beyond a deeper connection though. It has the power to open minds and hearts – to see the different possibilities in everything.
When we turn a leaf into a picture, we have tapped into our imagination. We have seen the possibilities and alternatives in that small slice of nature.
Imagine if we could train our minds to do this so well that we can open them in other areas.
THE STORY IN SOME STICKS
I saw a wonderful example of an artist seeing something more than pieces of wood during a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.
In her work, Manuhiri (Travellers), Fiona Hall created a large installation composed of found driftwood in the forms of living creatures. She saw beyond the pieces of wood and shared the story behind them.
I collected the driftwood from the beach at Awanui on Aotearoa New Zealand’s north east cape, where the Waiapu river flows out to the sea. Storms and landslips bring fallen trees down from the forests upstream; years of intensive farming have caused large-scale erosion that is now silting up and reshaping the river at its mouth. When the Waiapu (which means rushing water) finally reaches the sea its cargo of fallen timber is thrown back onto the beach by the tide, piled up like bones from a forest graveyard. Scattered among them you can find the creatures of the woods and water, travellers from a former forest life, reshaped by the ocean currents and now journeying to another life back in the world of the living.
We know the leaf is a leaf, with a specific purpose. When we see the possibilities the leaf presents, it forces us to question what we think we know. In effect, it is opening our hearts.
These lessons are gifts we can give our children by encouraging them to use nature in art.
8 WAYS TO USE NATURE IN ART
- If you read my article, How to Increase Health and Happiness by Playing in Mud, you’ll know there are many benefits to designing with dirt. Try these fun ideas for making muddy masterpieces.
- Surrounded by beautiful flowers? Why not try flower pressing and use the pressed flowers to create art?
- Let the earth’s strata be the inspiration for a beautiful collage.
- Make a game of spotting the patterns in nature and then recreating them.
- Join the worldwide painted rock craze and use rocks as your canvas for beautiful art.
- Or turn them into something else.
- There are so many wonderful things to do with sticks, including these fun fairy furniture ideas.
- How about a beautiful garden goddess that transforms your favourite plants into hair?
- Or this fabulous turtle planter?
There is no doubt that spending time in nature can make kids thrive (adults too) and teach important life lessons.
How will you use nature in art this week?
Happy crafting and have a gleeful week, Tamuria.