Human Connection with Nature | Professional Paintings | Maryland | BNW Art: The Leaway Artisans

Human Connection with Nature

June 26, 2014

For centuries, humans have dominated the earth, gradually altering the naturalistic aspect of nature, therefore forming a materialistic and artificialized society.

      What is this thing we call a society? Is it made to change our perception of how we should truly live life freely as humans? The society that we have created is nothing compared to what God has provided for us. We tend to think that God created life for the benefit of humans. We think of everything else in life as our environment, there to serve us. However, in biblical stories, God called creation “good”, even before humans were created. Genesis 1:1-31 states that “After the third day, God called plants and trees “good.” After the fourth day, God called the sun and the moon “good.” After the fifth day and sixth days, God called the animal creatures of air, sea, and land “good.” Finally, “God saw everything that God had made and, indeed, it was good.”11 

      Nature embodies a certain level of spirituality and knowledge, one that no mankind can possibly compare to. Nature possesses an immortal soul that triggers the human mind, enabling us to self reflect, become inspired, create an adventure, and escape from this materialized world that humans have made over centuries. An example of this transition from human connection with nature to modern society can be seen in the two photos below. The first photo is a painting by Albert Bierstadt depicting St. Anthony Falls in 1880. The second photo is a photographic depiction of St. Anthony Falls in modern time.

      Notice how different the two images are. The painting by Bierstadt depicts nature full of life and serving as a manifestation of the mind. The wild nature of the waterfalls captured, and the warm sunset gleaming on the water, indicate the connection between the creator of the painting, and what the creator is experiencing. Even though it is painting, it still holds a powerful inspiring quality. The painting is a representation of nature taking its course and moving freely undisturbed. The painting welcomes the viewer to experience the beauty and serenity nature has to offer.

      The inclusion of the figure standing on the cliff is also persuasive, illustrating the peaceful serene sensation one will experience if visited. The painting mocks the idea of a paradise land, undisturbed by humans, capturing the perfection of the free-spirited, untamed landscape. Because it is painted and not photographed, also reveals a connection and the need for humans to mimic and document the full sensation and life of the landscape. Documenting nature through the landscape genre was used to create a memory for what would one day be destroyed.

      The second photograph is a modern view of St. Anthony Falls. It is quite obvious that St. Anthony has changed drastically since the 19th century. The photograph depicts a manmade waterfall, covered by a bridge in the background. A city is also present in the background. The inclusion of human ingenuity takes away the natural sensation that can be provided by nature. The inclusion of human ingenuity also creates a disconnection between humans and nature, encouraging a world of artificiality ruled by technology and other human inventions. Human inventions such as the waterfall, bridge, and skyscrapers in the background take the awe away from the original landscape, making it less intriguing. The idea of capturing the waterfalls with a camera, also adds to the presence of human ingenuity. It is ironic that years ago nature was viewed as destructive and dangerous to man. Often it is still viewed from the same perspective. Now, the human species is one of the most destructive and violent species that ever walked the face of the earth.

 “The Falls of St. Anthony”, Bierstadt

 

Modern view of “St. Anthony Falls”, Photographer Unknown

      Who are we to destroy what the Great Creator has provided? He’s provided nature for us to enjoy, to be free, become inspired, and shaped internally. Adam Sedgwick, one of the founders of modern geology, stated that, “landscape and land is the closest you can get to God.”10 Nature nurtures. We take the natural elements from nature, relying heavily on it as if it were a mother, taking what it’s provided for us, manipulating and changing it into something artificial, something materialistic that will one day grow old and decay. Albert Bierstadt’s painting, “In the Foothills” (Figure 1) portrays in the foreground, an old cottage with a roof covered by grass and dirt. The cottage appears to be decaying suggested by the pieces of board falling from the door, the broken fence in the middle ground, and boarded windows and walls on the sides.  

      The grass growing on the cottage illustrates that nature and humans struggle for dominance. The path is emerging from the bottom of the page, and exiting on the left of the painting. On the path, are two women riding in a horse carriage, guided by a man on the left side of the carriage. On the outside of the cottage, is a man sitting, as his body leans forward with his arms crossed on his lap. There are also chickens standing in the foreground near the cottage. Farther behind the cottage in the background, a man is seen working in the field. This is an indicator of how Bierstadt documented the everyday lives of people around him. In the background, there is also another cottage hidden by foliage and bushes. The decaying nature of the cottage shows a connection, in relationship to the large trees behind it.

                     

                       (Figure 1)

      The detailed grass on the cottage relates to the foliage on the trees, creating the idea that the house is becoming a part of the earth. Materialized things decay like the human body, which emphasizes the question: why do we feel we are dominant over nature? Joanne Vining, a writer from Research in Human Ecology stated, “The Enlightenment brought with it feelings of domination over nature. Descartes of 1637 advanced the philosophy that human minds and bodies were separate. Other forces in play made it a relatively short logical link to the idea that humans were separate from nature and dominant over it.”7 “Desensitizing Effects of Violent Media on Helping Others”, is an article which talks about how the creation of human ingenuity such as violent video games and TV shows that have conditioned humans to become less emotionally connected and sympathetic towards other humans and nature.1 Many times for example, when a traumatic event is announced on the news, humans respond in a less alarming way, feeling a slight sympathy and quickly moving on with life.

      The ways in which we react to nature, results in our need for territorial advantage. Why do we feel like we are dominant over the earth? The earth is believed to be something that humans will one day become a part of. The human flesh is only temporary. We’re born, we live, we die, and our bodies are then buried into the ground, in which they slowly decay, becoming a part of the earth’s surface once again. Psalm 49:8-10 reads, “The ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—so that they should live on forever
and not see decay. For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others.”11 Our souls will rise and will become a part of nature.

      What is our purpose here on earth? Is our purpose to serve nature as nature has served us? Is it to enjoy it? Our values and meaning for life on earth, are the complete opposite of what we’re meant to do, what we’re created for. Perhaps nature can feel the pain we’ve caused it. I suppose it can. Maybe it talks. But we’re too immersed with the realistic world, too blinded to see, and listen to what nature has to say. Maybe nature speaks through the birds chirping, the crashing waves on the shore, or the wind. Maybe it shows its frustration through the thunder and lightening, which some humans regard to as dangerous. Rather, it’s the defenseless nature that we destroy.

      What is landscape? Landscape was first used in the Dutch Netherlands, and means “The land that never was.” By going out in nature and simply observing our surroundings, we are creating a snapshot. A landscape can be recreational, aesthetic, or spiritual. Landscapes are more than just “places of delight” or aesthetically pleasing images.10 They embody and express our most deeply seated myths, our values, and our noblest aspirations. Every landscape we create is a human construct and tells a story of ourselves. According to J. Donald Hughes’ “light on theory”, the study of the cultural dimensions of landscape is a lens towards understanding the history of humankind’s relationship to nature. The three dimensions consist of nature and culture, history and science, and scale. When landscape is viewed culturally, it renews the concrete space in what surrounds us, and masks the land.10

      Charles Darwin had a scientific way of explaining humans and nature. He believed that beauty and nature made people want to be better. Nature begins with the inside, and shapes us. The anti-industrialists were people who believed that the industrial revolution was an enemy to humans and the machine was dishonest, while the human hand was honest.10 In a Life Science article, “Humans Losing Touch with Nature”, Peter Kahn, a psychologist from the University of Washington argued, “We are a technological species, but we also need a deep connection with nature in our lives.”5

      Peter Fuller, a British art critic, emphasized the question of “Who can look at nature, and not see God?”10 Landscape is seen as a place of ownership, history, and power. Through landscape, we can express our desires and find truth within ourselves. We should spend more time thinking about how the landscape moves us. He argued whether nature or humans came first, and stressed the idea of humans making more of an effort to preserve the land and natural resources. Fuller contemplated when a division happened between nature and God, as well as when humans began dominating it. As time went on, something happened to our faith.10

      John Ruskin, an English art critic of the Victorian era, believed that there was a connection between nature and God, and when you come face to face with nature, you are looking into the eyes of God. Darwin’s 1859 Theory of Evolution stated that human technology today is perceived as more powerful than God and there is a relationship between humans and nature.10 Nature can be used for the benefits of humans. Human hands have made in nature, what it is not. As a result of humans making nature what it is not, they created an idea of a perfect place where they could go to when they died, known as paradise. Paradise is based off of the idea that the world we live in is imperfect, so therefore we create in our minds a world that we desire to live in.10

      The concept of paradise was fashioned in many different ways. In class, we clarified two aspects of paradise: that it’s unobtainable, and derives from the imagination. Paradise is a place that we've lost and a place we can return to when we die.10 Revelation reads, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”11 Paradise is described as having abundant fruits, flowing rivers, green trees and grass, butterflies, chirping birds, sunshine, and flowers that never die. Nature is a part of paradise. Paradise is an ancient Trojan word that comes from the word,"pairidaeza".10

      In the Muslim idea of paradise, there was an erotic aspect of nature and gendered as a woman. Gardens were created to mimic the idea of paradise, in an attempt to recreate and experience what has been lost. For example, there was usually a water source such as a fountain centered in the middle, forming into 4 paths resembling the 4 flowing rivers. There were also planted flowers and trees, which attracted birds. The temple, centered at the end of the garden, was made to symbolize the house of God. The gardens were usually opened or closed. However, closed gardens, represented The Paradise of Eden, and the Virgin Mary, untainted by the sin of the outside realistic world (in figure below).10

                                 

Madonna and Child in Garden, 1490, Unknown

      During the medieval period, landscape painters were seen as being subject to visions, and through painting landscapes, one could gain enhanced views of the world and strengthen their faith in God. During the 16th century, landscape would often be associated with humans in portraiture. Landscape was believed to embellish the portrait and tell a visual narrative of the person’s character.10 Landscape was and still is used as an expressive protagonist as depicted in Albert Bierstadt’s painting, “Campfire Site, Yosemite” (Figure 2). Bierstadt’s “Campfire Site, Yosemite”, depicts a group of expediters sitting around a campfire next to a large hill. The trees on the hill are slightly leaning over the campers, as the bright orange light illuminates onto the rocks and trees.  

      Bierstadt depicted relatively large sized trees to emphasize the idea of man being such a small creature in relation to nature (also seen in Figure 3, “The Oregon Trail”). The brushstrokes used to depict the leaves on the trees give them life in comparison to the lifeless humans. However, some of his brushwork is seen as repetitive creating the sense of falsification. His painting technique was inspired by the traditional way of painting, and indicated the use of impasto (thick application of paint).6 His paintings demonstrate a poetic and artistic aspect of landscape.

      Philosophers and poets of the century also wrote about American landscape, in an effort to better understand it and create a visual sense in order to experience nature in a spiritual way.3 Jacob Bronowski, a British historian of science once said, “Man masters nature not by force but by understanding. This is why science has succeeded where magic failed: because it has looked for no spell to cast over nature.” Nature is a fundamental element, and we are a product of our surroundings.10

                                     

 

                                         (Figure 2)

                      (Figure 3)

      Humans are consciously and unconsciously inspired by nature, feeling the desire to imitate it through a painting, or art in general. We attempt to mimic the beauty, the sensational feeling that nature provides for us. Artists have the desire to mimic what is lost. Albert Bierstadt was a landscape painter during the 19th century who deeply captured the beauty of nature, untouched by humans, untainted by the non-believers. He captured beautiful, dramatic, and intense light, a light that was reflected from the sky, creating an opening in the atmosphere. It suggested another world of paradise in which we all desire to live. For example, in his painting of “Estes Park, Colorado”(Figure 4), Bierstadt captured the natural quality of nature, untouched by humans.

      He depicted a realistic view of a lake, protruding from the left side of the canvas, leading the eye back into space as it emerges into the sunlight. Bierstadt also captures the reflection of the trees in the water, which are placed on the other side. He displays a great sense of depth and perspective, as the trees and dull painted mountains in the background grow smaller. Bierstadt also captures a strong sense of light on the trees and grass on the right side, giving the painting a powerful radiant glow. The light protruding from the sky at the top of the canvas also portrays a spiritual feeling, as if heaven were opening. If you look closely, you can also see how the dark clouds are slowly dispersing as they move to the sides of the canvas, revealing the delicacy nature has to offer.

      Bierstadt painted the landscape in a delicate way, revealing a smooth surface, especially in the water. The water is free of brushstrokes, which provides an uninterrupted flow serving a serene mood. The rays of light fall from the sky, as they bounce off of the water and foliage of the trees, creating a dramatic sensation. The painting is free of human intervention and interaction, revealing the idea of nature being in control. Bierstadt incorporated many neutral earth tones, and yellowish golds to depict the landscape realistically. The carefully painted texture of the foliage on the trees suggests the free-spirited character of nature. He also captured the various movements within nature. For example, the smoothness of the lake provides the idea of a peaceful flow, while one could imagine the leaves on the trees blowing in the wind. The smooth application of the paint in the clouds also suggests a gradual maneuvering.

 

                          (Figure 4)

      Albert Bierstadt’s paintings fell into the category of luminism and romanticism due to the strong capturing of light. Bierstadt’s goal when painting, was to increase the viewer’s emotional reaction.2 His paintings of the American West were described as “dreamlike landscapes”, portraying the landscapes he saw as paradise and a private place that many people were unable to see in person.2 While visiting the American West, he also studied the lives of American Indians, in addition to collecting native artifacts, tools, and garments for painting references. Duncan described Bierstadt’s paintings as “full exquisite detail”. Many art critics questioned whether his landscape paintings actually existed.2

      The striking beauty and perfection of the paintings made it hard to believe that such places existed in real life. The paintings are prominent at first glance, but they demonstrate an artificial quality as well, considering the usual disorganized nature of landscape.3 Duncan wrote, “Few Americans had witnessed anything like the sights of the Pacific Northwest, and the power of Bierstadt’s work filled them with wonder, awe, and perhaps fright over the sheer immensity and wilderness of the frontier.”2

      A study conducted by Elizabeth K. Nisbet and John M. Zelenski of Carleton University, helped to better reveal the disconnection of the human experience in nature. They found that outdoor walks positively effected participants more than indoor walks. This study emphasized the fact that the increasing technological inventions, and modern society have gradually created a disconnection between humans and nature. Because of this, people have grown more reliable on the artificialized aspect of society, rather than spending time in nature.8 Nisbet also mentioned that the well-being of humans and the environment would most likely suffer and eventually worsen. Nisbet also stated that when the participants experienced the sensation of nature, it created a stronger connection. When humans feel a sense of connection with nature, and spend more time with it, they will then begin to understand and develop a need to protect and care for it rather than underestimating and destroying nature.8

      Nisbet stated, “Avoiding contact with nature may also contribute to environmental destruction: People who do not feel related to nature are unmotivated to protect it.” 8 Psychologists also believe that nature can improve ones concentration, aid in progressive recovery from illness, and reduce stress. 8 However, as time goes on, each generation will be conditioned to believe that the environment we live in, is normal. The article, “Humans Losing Touch with Nature” read, “This concept of amnesia proposes that people believe the natural environment they encounter during childhood is the norm, against which they measure environmental degradation later in their life. The problem with this is that each generation takes that degraded condition as a non-degraded baseline and is generally oblivious of changes and damages inflicted by previous generations.”5 

      Humanly formed ideas and inventions have created a disconnection internally, allowing humans to become conditioned to show little or no interest in nature. The gradual changes taking place in society, have made it harder for humans to communicate and express emotions and sympathy in regards to other life forms. Sociobiologist E. O. Wilson, created a biophilia hypothesis in 1984 indicating, “Because humans evolved in natural environments and have lived separate from nature only relatively recently to their evolutionary history, people possess an innate need to affiliate with other living things.” 8

      Humans have a need to connect and develop close relationships with other living things rather than strictly human-to-human contact. For example, visiting the zoo, gardening, and pet ownership.8 However, society takes a great effort in attempting to change that aspect. For example, the invention of robot and virtual pets are being used to replace the ideal realistic pet for children.12 As discussed in ART 262, Schama believed that humans have a connection to the land, and landscapes are snapshots tied to memory.10

      Albert Bierstadt for example, decided to paint landscapes in an attempt to create a memory for himself of what would soon be destroyed due to the industrial revolution. Kim O’Connell, the author of “Measuring the War’s Impact Through Landscape Painting”, wrote “This isn’t just a striking painting of the American continent, it’s the landscape equivalent of Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom”—a land of peace, potential and wonder, unspoiled by the devastating conflict that the painter and his fellow Americans had just endured.”9

      Duncan from American Artist: ArtistDaily stated, “The landscapes Bierstadt saw and re-created in his work provided the artist and the audience with a sense of pride and identity, something much needed in the shadow of the Civil War.”2 Nature can be a place of solitude and reflection, as depicted in Bierstadt’s “Estes Park, Colorado”. Nature provides for the necessities of humans, and contains many elements that humans need in order to survive. Humans couldn’t possibly survive without nature and the flesh of animals. Animals therefore, couldn’t survive without nature, which provides for us a circle of life. In a study conducted by the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Environment and Society, they asked a number of people whether they perceived themselves as a part of nature or separate. A majority of the participants stated that they saw themselves as a part of nature (76.9%).7  There was a high percentage of people who regarded to themselves as a part of nature, but yet nature is constantly devalued by many humans.

      We don’t think of ourselves as being dominated by nature, but dominating nature. We only destroy and use nature, taking away the natural elements and adding it to our modernized society. We then turn it into something unnatural, making it acceptable and suitable to our own standards of our idealized lifestyle. In an effort to restore our world, as well as finding our purpose as humans, we must first inhabit a desire to understand nature and other life forms that exist.

 

 

Endnotes

1 Bushman, Brad J. “Desensitizing Effects of Violent media on Helping Others.” 

      Psychological Science. 7 Jul. 2008. Web.

2 Duncan, James. “Albert Bierstadt: Visions of the West.” pp. 1-34. American Artist:

     ArtistDaily, Oct. 2011. Web.

3 Fine, Richard A. “Albert Bierstadt, Fritz Hugh Ludlow and the American Western

     Landscape.” Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 91-99. American Studies: Mid-America American

     Studies Association, Fall 1974. Journal.

4 Hendricks, Gordon. Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West. New York: H.N.

     Abrams, 1974. Print.

5 “Humans Losing Touch With Nature.” Live Science 1 Apr. 2009. Web.

6 Mayer, Lance, and Gay Meyers. “Bierstadt and Other 19th Century American 

      Painters in Context.” Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 55-67. Journal of the American Institute for

     Conservation: Maney Publishing, Spring 1999. Journal.

7 Merrick, Melinda S., Emily Price, and Joanne Vining. “The Distinction Between

     Humans and Nature: Human Perceptions of Connectedness to Nature and

     Elements of the Natural and Unnatural.” Vol. 15, No. 1. Human Ecology Review:

     Society for Human Ecology. 2008. Journal.

8 Nisbet, Elizabeth K., and John M. Zelenski. “Underestimating Nearby Nature:

     Affective Forecasting Errors Obscure the Happy Path to Sustainability.” Vol. 22,

     No. 9, pp. 1101-1106. Psychological Science: Sage Publications, Inc., Sep. 2011.

     Journal.

9 O’Connell, Kim A. “Measuring the War’s Impact Through Landscape Painting.” Civil

     War Times. Vol. 52, Issue 2. 2013. Database.

10 Oettinger, A. “Nature into Art: The Cultural Dimensions of Landscape.” Lecture/Class. 

      Goucher College. 2013. Unpublished.

11 The Holy Bible: New International Version. Biblica, 1973, 1978, 1984.

12 Vieru, Tudor. “Experts say Humans and Nature Should Remain Connected.”

     Softpedia. 2 Apr. 2009. Web.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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