Archive for the ‘Landscape’ Category

The aesthetic instinct

March 19, 2014
View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

I just spotted these images of some of the recent flooding in Somerset, taken from Glastonbury Tor.

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

It strikes me how beautiful the images are, contrasting with the devastation these floods caused.

Landscape by Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682), known as 'Le coup de soleil', possibly a fanciful view of Alkmaar, at Upton House, inv. no. 446731. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Landscape by Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682), known as ‘Le coup de soleil’, possibly a fanciful view of Alkmaar, at Upton House, inv. no. 446731. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

We seem to have an instinct to aestheticise whatever we see, even if it is negative and painful.

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking south-west towards Street and the surrounding hills. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

When confronted with a flooded landscape we intuitively reach back to the vocabulary of old master paintings, to help us define what we are looking at.

Crossing the ford by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), at Upton House, inv. no. 446672. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Crossing the ford by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), at Upton House, inv. no. 446672. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Presumably this is a semi-conscious coping mechanism: we want to discover patterns in the chaos, so that we feel we have a chance of creating some order out of it.

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore with the Mendip Hills in the distance. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, looking north-west towards Wedmore with the Mendip Hills in the distance. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

In this sense art can be defined simply as a sophisticated information processing tool, helping us to analyse positive as well as negative experiences.