The relationship between art and nature has been long argued and established in manifestos and artist letters. Just think of the paintings of bison, horses, a doe and wild boar on the walls of Altamira, Northern Spain that are dated as being 14,000 to 16,500 years old. Along with these realistic images are abstract images. Were these earliest of artists even then creating images that were not drawn from nature? Obviously the identifiable or “realistic” images were painted from memory, not from seeing the models in front of them but did they ascribe meaning to those non-identifiable blotches of pigment?
The Greeks are said to be the first people to consider seriously how to paint from nature instead of from traditional formulas that, for instance, in Egypt (and in China, too) kept art through thousands of years from changing significantly. The Greeks copied nature, as much as they knew how to study nature with their eyes.
Through the centuries of Western art, along with the cycle of romanticism alternating with classicism, artists would pendulum from realism to idealism. In modern times, or at least since the art revolution we call “modern,” many artists especially in France and Belgium boldly departed from slavishly copying nature although many continued to believe painting in the presence of the subject was essential to creating authentic art. Later artists dispensed with the presence of the model and once again imagination and memory (which is not too far from imagination) became primary in the creative process.
This is not to say that realistic art disappeared. The external world was not only copied by some artists but sometimes bits and pieces were actually incorporated into art work or whole pieces themselves construed as art — and accepted as such by collectors and museums.
My own short excursion into photography and art even so runs the gamut of photorealism and what I call “manipulated” photography. Maybe because I started with photography I feel ungrounded when I create digital art exclusively from an idea or concept. I feel most comfortable when like many artists who start an oil or watercolor with a pencil drawing I start from a photograph that I then work with until I find an image I can live with!
This image is one such work that started from a photograph of lychees, weird-looking fruits now found in Asian groceries that many Asians remember eating from a can in places where the trees were not grown. I could have worked with it even more until the image became “abstract” but I am happy with the way this looks.
The process of creating art fascinates me. I was into words and ideas before I ever came to photography and then to art. Maybe this is why I felt compelled to study art and art history. I needed to use the mind balancing ideas with images, reasoning with intuition.
Religion or spirituality has always been to me intimately related to creativity. Practicing Buddhism for close to forty years I have come to value what little I have come to know about consciousness, the physical senses, and the various faculties of mind like attention, memory, planning, associating, reasoning, identifying, feeling, intending, even dreaming both at night and during the day.
Art for me is a vehicle for expressing i.e externalizing in a suitable medium contents of mind. By thus creating ways of expressing mind objects art broadens not only what consciousness contains and can contain but also seems to broaden consciousness itself. It’s like digging a channel for a spring to flow and discovering rivulets of water I didn’t see were there before I set myself to giving attention to waterways in the first place.
So maybe I should be writing not of a dyad but a trinity: nature, art and consciousness. I’ll leave that for another day to explore.