Saturday, April 23, 2011
Plants As Objets d'Art
I took these three, and a few others, with no natural history essays in mind. No information, per se, but a purely aesthetic response. As I consider various approaches to my forthcoming classes in Nature Journaling, I am tempted to wax philosophical about art. A French title is a safe place to start. Doesn't "objets d'art" sound like something serious is about to happen? Like "pleine aire" painting? Funny how even though in French it's "en plein air," some folks, probably trying to sound even more French, spell it "pleine aire." I'm well aware that objets d'art can also be used to mock the pretentiousness of using the French in such situations. Like we used to do in high school when we referred to horz doovers.
My seriousness of purpose is simply this - a human response to a flower, a bug, a waterfall, or any aspect of nature that moves one deeply, may include elements of what we call an aestethic response, but may also raise questions in the spirit of scientific inquiry, or a fuzzy combination. My nature journaling in college was primarily a tool for gathering and organizing information in ecology and natural history classes. Since I could draw pretty well, and especially loved drawing what I saw under microscopes, my "field notes" tended to include more sketches than those of my classmates. Some professors worried that the art impulse could lead me astray as far as scientific pursuits were concerned. Recently, my growing love for nature photography and journaling have led to my making a conscious effort to emphasize the aesthetic. I am not a highly developed artist, but I aspire to be much better than I am. I want to be able to admire my own drawings and paintings. Not just a matter of vanity, I believe that the better my art becomes, the more deeply it will rekindle the memory of the original experience. That's why lots of people keep scrapbooks and photo albums, to rekindle memories (and, I suppose, sometimes, to impose them on others, as in the classic slide show of the family vacation). Having been trained so well in the realm of information gathering, I find my artistic efforts continually invaded by the information-gathering habit. For instance, when I first stumbled across the budding maple tree in the top photo, my response was purely aesthetic - I think. I found the emerging buds incredibly beautiful, and photographed about 20 of them. But at home, when I first put this photo on the screen, I spotted the insect for the first time. Suddenly, I was the naturalist again. I wanted to identify it, find out if its relationship with the maple was intimate or just as a landing pad, and so on. But, there will be no natural history essay here. I didn't look it up.
I have an ambiguous response to tulips. Sometimes they look plastic to me, not at all pleasing. At other times, I am reminded of their hardiness, or I may encounter some with complex variegated colors, and find them pleasing. This one appealed to me because it wasn't quite open, and I had spent the whole previous week focusing my photography on what species were beginning to bloom, a sort of classic response to spring.
The Elegant Rock Cress in the bottom photo is a plant I've been watching for several weeks. It was the first wild flower I saw in bloom this season. But only by accident, as I was beginning to fall off a small rocky ledge and trying to protect my camera, so I get a glimpse of this plant from the top. When I regained my balance, I just had to climb back up and photograph it from above.
So, I can summarize these musings with a reference to an essay Wallace Stegner wrote about writing. He was describing what the photographer Ansel Adams reportedly learned from one of his heroes, Steiglitz. His goal in photography is "equivalence." He hopes his photos will cause the equivalent of the emotional response he had to the subject when he took the photo. He believed that a photo that works needs no explanation, can have no explanation. So, if the above photos work, especially after you click on them to see larger views, then all I've just written here is redundant. Just go back and enjoy the photos.