We love a landscape, we really do.
I bet you are familiar with at least some of these names: John Constable, Thomas Cole, Joseph Turner, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh.
Yes, they are all famous painters and are especially remembered for paintings of landscapes.
Likely you are also familiar with this painting by Constable, The Haywain, that depicts a rural scene on the River Stour between the English counties of Suffolk and Essex or perhaps this one rings a distant bell, A View of Arles by Vincent van Gogh.
Many of the most famous landscape paintings are of rural scenes where human intervention has altered the scene dramatically from the original ‘wilderness’.
This was handy for the painters of course. It meant that as they stood at their easel or sketched their charcoal renderings, they could see a long way into the distance. They could compose across open fields dotted with human-made interest.
Presumably for the landscape painter a pristine forest is less interesting visually, has fewer vantage points for the sketch and, critically, it has no obvious human connection. There are no objects or patterns to link the viewer to themselves.
We have already spoken of the biblical instruction in Genesis 1:28 for mankind to have dominion and, over the centuries, humankind has readily complied. Almost all landscape are altered by our hand, our chainsaws and our D-9s.
What most of the famous landscape artists painted was a human-made landscape, there were very few fully natural views that made it onto canvas.
So why do landscapes excite us?
- Are familiar to us.
- Represent the dominion that we feel we have to have
- Provide an image of perceived security that comes from dominion over nature
- Under our control make us feel safer.
If we control nature then all her diabolical beasts and storms and winter chills are less of a threat to our person. If we control the profusion of life and can use it as needs must then we feel that security from food and water is easier to find. More viscerally, open land makes it easier to see the danger coming
The rainforest image was taken in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
It looks natural enough, pristine even, but it has been altered by people planting trees they need closer to where they need them. Sure these trees occur naturally in the forest but their locations and abundance have changed over the thousands of years that people have been living in the forest.