Unreal Nature

February 20, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… one man, prompted by feelings in his muscles, goes to the surface.

This is from the essay ‘Nature and Art Are Physical’ found in Nature and Art Are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967-2008 by Rackstraw Downes (2014):

… For art today the basic issue is this: on the one hand there is nature, a physical fact from which we are far from being separate and with which we have an interactive relationship; on the other hand is the man-made culture we live in. There, technology has been gradually attempting to elude the natural physicality of existence: space, time, pain, mortality, etc. I consider landscape art a messenger between these two spheres, which expresses our attitudes to the evolving situation.

Schiller, in his essay ‘Naïve and Sentimental Poetry,’ equates nature with what is not self-aware or in conscious self-control. As well as plants and minerals, he mentions the behavior of children and the customs of country folk. “Nature, considered in this wise, is for us nothing but the voluntary presence, the subsistence of things on their own, their existence in accordance with their own immutable laws.”

[line break added] We say that cities “grow” and “decay” using metaphors that indicate we take these processes to be “voluntary presences,” and not under our control. We may plan our freeway systems, but Wayne Thiebaud paints them as a tangled, organic network, seemingly alive and high on synthetic color, where repetition signifies not monotony, but hyperactivity.

[line break added] … Yvonne Jacquette goes one step further; in her paintings of cities, often seen from the air, distinctions so important to us on the ground — what is nature, what is not — have disappeared. Her paint structure shows the earth as a continuous thickly piled rug where everything is subject to natural laws. The modern momentum that gives you that view is expressed by a close-up of the wing of the plane that carries her, not by anything you can see on the ground.

Wayne Thiebaud, Urban Freeways, 1979

… In both the making of art and the study of art, the dominant culture today is one of ideas and meanings, signs and allegories, in which it is not the thing but the idea it refers to that counts. But I think our culture has to learn a whole new relatedness to the physical world, and that in order to attune ourselves to this we need an art not of reference but of presence — of the physical thing itself in its integrity.

[ … ]

… In the Forster story I mentioned, mankind lives underground in a technological civilization built, the author explains, out of humanity’s desire for comfort. The Machine supplies their every want. Their bodies are pap, they value only ideas. Though it is forbidden to do so, one man, prompted by feelings in his muscles, goes to the surface. So inspired is he by what he sees there that he decides he will reject his civilization:

little hills — low colorless hills. But to me they were living and the turf that covered them was a skin, under which their muscles rippled, and I felt that those hills had called with incalculable force to men in the past, and that men had loved them. Now they sleep — perhaps forever. They commune with humanity in dreams.




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