August 02, 2022
Throughout the history art landscapes have played an important role. And the most dramatic of landscapes are those that feature mountains. Early Greeks and Egyptian cultures attributed mythological heavenly identities to mountains. Greek mythic Goddess and Mother Earth was Gaea, and her children were The Ourea, the mountains. The same mountains were known to the Romans as Montes. Mountains were regarded as the first ‘beings’ on Earth. Greek and Roman art and literature paid great heed to mountain gods and goddesses. In the classic tome ‘Argonautica’ Orpheus sings of the Oureas and their role in Creation.
Wherever possible, 19th century Japanese wood block artists would sneak in a glimpse of Mount Fuji into their work. For example, the landscape painting, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, by Hokusai, an artist who inspired many French impressionist, has Mount Fuji rising like a wave in the work. Mount Fuji is a sacred holy site; a natural shrine, an Earth-born temple. In art, its significance as such is primarily symbolic of manliness. For many centuries, women were excluded by law from going near the mountain.
As mentioned above, French impressionists like Paul Cezanne, a significant painter who shaped the evolution of modern art, was compelled to capture the gravitas of mountainous landscapes of the south of France, and Provence.
As the new world became discovered and populated, artists accompanied were among the pioneers who recorded what they saw. And the more mountainous the aspect, the more dramatic the art.
Those who ventured into the Americas were beguiled by the grandeur of the Rockies and Yosemite, the Grand Canyon. Landscape on a scale never envisaged on small island nations like the British Isles. Although Scotland drew the attention of many British artists as well as Scottish born painters like John Nicholson.
With the coming of a fully-fledged number of modern art movements, many of which were of abstract origin, the art of landscape took on an esoteric connotation. In other words, a painting may appear to be of a landscape, with mountains, valleys and plains. But that may not have been the artist’s inspiration, nor the ‘message’ they sort to convey.
For example, there are those who would be willing to suggest that the powerful abstracts painted by Mark Rothko had, intentionally or not, a landscape quality in the proportional representation of shape and colour. This could be put down to the sentient human urge to interpret shape and form by attributing some semiotic ‘meaning’. Much to Rothko’s frustration, he was obliged to deny in the most strenuous terms that any such literal meaning was ever intended and most certainly not desired.
All this compulsion to see something representative in abstract art is very commonplace and, some psychologists would say that it’s hardly surprising, despite remonstrations and denials from a painting’s creator. The human being is genetically conditioned to interpret shape and form with a metaphoric eye. Consequently, if one compares the landscapes, cityscapes of say, Claude Monet, his tendency to silhouette hills, forests, haystacks and tall buildings in a similar way. As Cezanne said of Monet, “He was only an eye, but my God, what an eye.”
Thus, it could be a vista of born of nature or man-made. It conveys symbolic mountains of the mind.
To look for ‘mountains’ in abstract art has a kind of emotional and spiritual attraction or appeal. Since the dawn of time, we humans have gazed longingly into the distance seeking inspiration, safe haven and hope.
If a painting can do that, then who could resist it? And why would you?
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