Humans find things beautiful that require specific interest. A creek is beautiful to anyone that is thirsty. True beauty is going to the same creek to admire it, with a bottle of fresh cold water in tow. It is interest in witnessing the natural beauty of the creek that brings you there, not thirst. That is the beauty we will be seeking to understand and define through three interconnected themes: the Natural, the Feminine, and the Divine or Immortal.
This post is going to focus on why we associate landscapes with beauty. I know that I enjoy catching as many sunsets and sunrises as possible. (As a matter of fact, it is a personal deal with God to collect as many as I can over my life.)
But, I am not the first person in humanity to sit before the sun or moon and seek something. Enjoyment? Peace? Understanding? Why do so many people chase the climb? Wake up early for the hike? Or stay up late painting away the scenes they spent the day gathering? And why do people buy and display landscape art? What does nature mean to us? Is it the basis for our ideas of beauty?
Do things or objects or landscapes need to have an element of the natural to be truly beautiful? Would you drive hours to see a painting of a waterfall when the waterfall is available in your backyard? — I want to focus on natural beauty and where it came from; what it means today; and how it is connected to the other themes.
Landscapes help to define who we are and where we call home. They don’t always depict the world as we see it, rather they are often a vision of what the artist would like the world to be.
Landscape scrolls became synonymous with high civilication in 11th century Song China.
During the darkest days of Europe, the dynasties ruling modern day China were trading in paper money, using a legal system, making gunpowder, and instituting calligraphy exams for government personnel.
Nature plays an important role in the Chinese art tradition. As the Song came to power in China, the concept of withdrawal into the natural wrold became a major thematic focus of poets and painters. This brought landscape painting into a right of its own.
Nature provided life and form, expressing something larger than the emperor, or the stronghold of a government. This energy of nature is called qi/chi and is the magic manifest in the purity of landscapes.
When faced with the failure of human order, men and women across the world and at various times have sought permenance within the natural world, retreating into the mountains to find a sanctuary from the chaos of collapse. Humans often wish to flee what they cannot control.
Landscape art in dynastic China was a way for intellectuals and artists to subvert imperial control and create the beauty they wanted to see in China. Fastforward to 1966 the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong and the Red Army laid seige to the intellectual community in China.
Even while under house arrest, the Chinese national hero Mu Xin, found a way to escape the madness around him, by paininting the China he rememebred and not the China that was around him. During the war-torn 20th century, landscape art was viewed as uplifting the soul toward God– calling up a hint of infinity and capable of arousing great thoughts and passions.
The desire to escape the unpleasant realities around us is as human as it is to breathe. Today, escapism via the landscape around you had taken on a three dimensional quality.
Chinese scrolls that were orginally designed to unfold like a story are the predesscors to the cinematic experience unfolding before us. Video game technology allows us to interact with that cinematic experience in real time. Video games allow us to choose the landscapes we lose ourselves in and manipulate them at our will.
This type of escape is easily co-opted into national pride. Escaping into landscapes unique to your home country or your environment, naturally supports nationalism. Nationalism is just a pride of nation. And being proud of the shared natural monuments that outline the land is powerful. A power that rulers and artists have drawn on forever and that I will blog about next.
I think we search landscapes for beauty because we associate beauty with an escape. Beauty should allow us some mental break from the humdrum of everyday. It should catch our attention enough to possibly provide peace.
My hunt for the defition and understanding of true beauty continues.
Companion Media: Civilizations — Season 1, Episode 6. Paradise on Earth.