... what a coincidence: the topic of running is my starting off point today.
About two months ago (back when DC was just a wintery grey, not its present snow white), I was midway through my favorite run along this canal thing in my neighborhood that culminates in a meet-up with the Potomac River, when the thought randomly crossed my mind- "Is there any type of art that really, truly captures the sensation of running?" Almost instantly, I had my answer: LANDSCAPES. Why? Landscapes try and encompass all that you see before you, try to bring you in to that space. There's no story involved, no figures for you to narcissistically identify with, no giant brushstrokes for you to be confused by. Just you and the land. Just like running.
Winter semester 2010 means Art History 254: American Landscapes in the 19th Century. I signed up for this class because, admittedly, I do not like landscapes, nor do I know much about them, and I knew I should probably fix that (and, I love America!!!). They all seem essentially the same to me: a horizon line through the middle, with earth beneath and sky above. Usually there's some kind of weather and rock formations thrown in the mix, too. Case closed. One of my favorite paintings to say hi to everyday at the BYU Museum of Art, though, was a landscape. It is by the southwestern painter Maynard Dixon, Mesas in Shadow, oil on canvas, 1926, at left. He sure is a pretty canvas, now isn't he? I love(d) this painting because it feels exactly how my high desert clouds look, rolling on over my neighboring mountains.
Now, a little over a month into my course, I write to you as maybe not a changed woman, but definitely an intrigued and thoughtful one. My in-class landscape learning thus far has consisted of philosophical discussions (my fav... NOT.), and just two slides: an artist's self-portrait and a depiction of a guy getting his leg bitten off by a shark (??). This week, however, I had homework with illustrations-- amazing ones!-- and for once, landscapes have my full and complete attention and admiration! Maybe it's because of the twelveish-day streak of sitting in my house contemplating nature. Maybe (and a lot of art fans out there would probably say this smugly) it's because landscapes really are that important to art history. Either way, what I might once have dismissed as just artists showing off their skills ("Let's see how realistic I can make this leaf..."), I now see as very valuable records-- snapshots-- of how people view their own time and place; what seems important and beautiful enough for them to document.
The Hudson River School of artists were the first Americans to take up the mantle of creating a distinctly American style of painting that could compete with the Europeans. They chose as their weapon the American landscape. Why? Because they felt (and rightly so, in my opinion) that the land of the free and the home of the brave contained something brand new to art, history, and society. Their gorgeous pictures of the untamed, idyllic beauty of the West symbolize the freedom and majesty inherent to our democratic system of government. The Hudson River School also frequently depicted the Eerie Canal and the Hudson River it connected to (hence their name). This was because the canal (363 miles long, finished in 1825) symbolized man's innovation, engineering prowess, trade potential, and also the still-new nation's great potential for growth. I'm looking forward to finally getting to discuss these images in class, someday.
My dear mom keeps getting after me and my siblings for never taking pictures of our worlds. She likes to be able to envision where we are when we tell her the stories of our various social and educational escapades (it must be the artist in her). Well, I was browsing through the 600+ pictures stored on my camera this week, and realized that I have taken quite a few landscapes of my own, and that these are often my very favorite photos (well, tied with the ones of me and my BFF's). In the spirit of the Hudson River artists (John Frederick Kensett, Jasper Francis Cropsey, Thomas Cole, and Albert Bierstadt... Google them if you want to see some jaw-dropping nature scenes), I am now posting some of my landscapes, so you can see where I've been (and maybe some day you'll share some of your own...). I love these photos because all of them have a story. All of them are visual records of events and places in my life that were important, or just breathtaking. Right now (I can't believe I'm going to cave and talk about love) I am just happy to have a horizon full of hope. My idea of love is pretty much the same as it was at the end of my V-day post last year, except that I've seen that that train flash by me a couple times now (and I SOLD that GRE book, instead of burning it- haha!) For all my friends in my same boat, let's just hang on, smile, and repeat the lines from my current favorite hymn: "Keep thou my feet I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me." Life is a beautiful thing. Keep going. :)
Wait, one more thing. Because it will get you to smile, it has great landscapes of Rio, and I'm a little obsessed with it right now: