Friday, 13 April 2007

My Lorrain Mirror


This is one reason why I like where we live. It's not the view from our kitchen door, regrettably, but it's not much of a drive away. Perhaps you're not into landscapes and don't see what I see in ours. It is after all, just a bunch of rocks, trees and grass.

If I were born before 1700, I'd probably agree. In this period, landscapes weren't considered particularly worthwhile, even for the artist. Of course the rest of us were far too busy with our noses to the ground to notice them.

As far as I know landscape art is rare, prior to 1700. The human form took precedence in Europe. Perhaps it was some puritanical notion that the pleasure found in natural things was dangerous to the soul, because it diverted it from god. I'm sure St Anselm had something to do with this rubbish.

Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) it's said, led the surge of landscape art in Britain. He 'perfected' the form, and set strict rules on how landscape should be depicted. To aid the aspiring artistic fop, he advised bringing along a mirror to a sitting upon the hill. Once the fop had found an appropriate vista, Lorraine advised that he turn his back on it. The artist must then set his mirror on its stand, and paint not the landscape, but what he framed in its reflection. Hmmn.

This new form - the landscape, was seized upon by many. It became a mainstay of our aesthetic. One that remains to this day; the world in a reflected frame.

It troubles me to think that the awe I experience, when peering at a 'beautiful' landscape, could be one that I've been educated to feel. There is no beauty in hills. Perhaps I've just been indoctrinated to think that there is. In different circumstances, I could have learnt that barren, glacier gouged landscapes are inhospitable, ugly places that should be avoided at all costs.

9 comments:

Stew said...

I remember Michael Moorcock's novel "The Ice Schooner" about a future world in the grip of ice age. Convention had changed so that ice and cold we seen as pure and beautiful. Areas where the ice melted and the horrible wet muddy dirty earth showed thru caused revultion. And green things - ugh.
Our concepts of beauty are cultural and learned, but that doesn't mean they are wrong or that we have been conned. If we have been taught that green fields and dry stone walls are beautiful, and as a result, when we see them we sigh and think "how wonderful" then job done.
On the other hand it can be argued that there are certain "rules" or universals about what is pleasing to the human eye and what is not.
When, from the renaissance on, artists began placing elements of their paintings at certain strategic points on the canvas, they were bulding on a canon of received wisdom of what "works" in producing a good painting.
Place a "good" painting and a "bad" painting in front of someone who has not studied art and they will appreciate the good painting, even if they cannot articulate why.

I've lived in Africa, England and now France. England is by far and away the prettiest place I've ever seen.

What a rambling comment. Must be the beer.

jamon said...

What's beautiful and what's not are certainly taught.

What isn't, is our capacity to comprehend beauty, which is inherent, I think. Though we can learn to 'amplify' it.

That, and perhaps our need for it.

(I've got that Moorcock novel somewhere, though I've never read it. I'll have a hunt - thanks for the pointer ;) )

Stew said...

"What's beautiful and what's not are certainly taught."

Perhaps we're arguing semantics here. What is DEFINED as beautiful is taught. What humans find pleasing to the eye can be inherent. I'm thinking of studies showing that babies respond more postively to face images that are "regular" or conform to ideal proportions.

jamon said...

Sorry I didn't make myself clearer - I was agreeing with you.

We are programmed to inherently appreciate certain stimuli as pleasing, just like the baby, as you say.

Stew said...

On re-reading your previous comment, you were perfectly clear. I was guilty of reading just your first para and responding to it without reading the entire comment.

A bad habit of mine.

Hanlon's razor, a corollary of Finagle's law, is an adage which reads: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

jamon said...

Wise words indeed. A failing I share , all too frequently ;)

Holly said...

I don't care why I find such things beautiful. I am just glad I do. Beauty is a pleasure I couldn't do without.

MothandRust said...

my art teacher used to tell me that blue and green should never be seen. In some cases that's probably right. Always looks amazing to me though. I live inland Australia where everything just goes brown and red.

jamon said...

I've heard that saying before.

Personally, I can't think of a better combination of colours ;)