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framing the land

July 13, 2015

I found these points about representing New Zealand landscapes quite thought-provoking:

“The art historian Francis Pound has argued, in his influential book Frames on the Land, that the early European painters of New Zealand’s landscape framed the land with a set of European artistic conventions and gestures.” (p.98)

He goes on: “But it should not be forgotten that the frames of genres are also presuppositions held as much by the spectators of the paintings as by the painters of them. Looking at the land through the frame of genre makes the land able to be perceived, able to be painted, and so landscape painting for the early settlers of New Zealand was a way of inventing the land, of modifying it and reconstructing it in pictorial terms, parallel to the physical colonisation of it they actively undertook. Indeed, the very idea of landscape, Pound argues, is a European import and ultimately there is no such thing as the innocent eye and no possible natural access to a real and unmediated New Zealand nature. Every act of seeing the land is also an act of possession, of colonisation, an attempt to fit the landscape into European habits of mind with the [-p.99] transference of European landscape conventions from the metropolitan centre to the imperial periphery. As Peter Brunt observes, for Pound, who ‘insists upon the culturally coded nature of all pictorial representation’, Hodges’s paintings ‘simply inaugurate a cultural colonisation of the land whose supposed novelty, newness or silence is only a permission to forget the fact of a prior language…'” (pp.98-99)

“The artists who accompanied Cook are at once scientific recorders (often working closely with naturalists, such as the father and son team of the Forsters) and artists calling upon the genres of landscape painting to depict a world that doesn’t look like Europe.” (p.100) … “[Bernard] Smith concludes that ‘Cook’s voyages were not only fact-gathering phenomena, they deeply affected conceptual thought, and their influence penetrated deeply into the aesthetic realm.'” (p.100)

Simmons “…complicate[s] even further this picture of confrontation between two different ways of looking at things seen by adding to the discussion a psychoanalytical dimension.” (p.100) “The geographer Jay Appleton has recently generalised psychological explanations for the recurrence of landscape forms and their aesthetic. He writes that ‘because the ability to see without being seen is an intermediate step in the satisfaction of many… [biological] needs, the capacity of the environment to ensure the [-p.101] achievement of this becomes a more immediate source of aesthetic satisfaction’. Appleton asserts that the aesthetic values of landscape are not found in a philosophy of aesthetics, nor in a culturally bound artistic symbolism, but in the biological and behavioural needs that we share with other animals. The pleasurable sensations we are afforded in the experience of landscape are related to environmental conditions favourable to biological survival. Appleton believes that we should consider the possibility of a symbolism representing the elements that are crucial to survival in the habitat of living creatures since, he argues, a ‘landscape which affords both a good opportunity to hide is aesthetically more satisfying than one which affords neither’. His ideal spectator of the landscape, albeit in a distant biological past, is grounded in a visual field of violence, exposed as unwilling prey to all types of natural threat. Appleton proposes a terminology of abstract terms for describing the aesthetic elements in landscape, terms indicating features that increase the likelihood of survival: prospect, which allows an animal unimpeded opportunity to see and control from an elevated place; refuge, which allows it to hid; and hazard, which stirs a feeling of being threatened and of wanting to escape. The perception of these elements in a represented landscape, such as a painting, both verifies the spectator’s ability to survive and elicits an emotional response similar to that felt when they are encountered in a natural environment. The standard picturesque landscape, for example, is pleasing to the eye because it places the spectator in a protected, shaded spot (a ‘refuge’), with screens on either side to dart behind or to entice curiosity. In this attempt to valorise the body as an agent of cognition we are moving close to an understanding of the reflective role of a landscape as a kind of ‘bodyscape’.” (pp.100-101)

I wonder how this theory might apply to picturebooks – and to successful book covers (I’m thinking crime and thriller, but others, too…)

The same idea might apply to a well-constructed scene… how do authors create perspective on a crime, for example (the moors in certain fictions spring to mind, but houses too…)?

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine; italics in original) Laurence Simmons ‘Bridging the Wild: Prospect and Refuge in an Eighteenth-century New Zealand Landscape Painting.’ Landfall 204: Nov 2002; pp.95-108


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