1.30.2018Art Theory's Ideal Landscape and Terroir
Are you saying I am programmed to find this landscape beautiful? Denis Dutton is, his first chapter of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution (2009) discusses a universally beautiful landscape to which humans have an innate attraction. When I read this I thought, sounds like wine country to me, and reminiscent as well of the way people speak of terroir. Tonight’s post draws a connection between instrinsically beautiful landscapes, wine country vistas and terroir.
Dutton begins his book with a discussion of Komar and Melamid’s 1998 research project to determine the most attractive piece of art world wide. They came up with a landscape with low rolling hills, of bluish tint with a body of water and some indication of human habitation. They called it for short America’s Most Wanted Universal Blue Landscape and summarized their findings in the book Painting by Numbers. Then they painted, humorously, that very painting as a pastiche of all these desirable attributes and it looks a bit like a Hudson School landscape.
The ghost of an instrinsically pleasurable landscape remains in our brains from the Pleistocene and the 1.6 million years during which human evolution perfected the survival instinct to gravitate towards protein rich habitat abundant with other important attributes for hominid survival. One writer in particular stands out, having written about this more in detail than Komar and Melamid: Jay Appleton and his 1975 book The Experience of Landscape. Dutton explains Appleton’s theory: the universally ideal landscape relates to East African Savannahs where much of early human evolution occurred, and where the predominance of desert is a relatively recent phenomena; having slowly supplanted grassy pastures, stands of bushes and trees, rolling vistas and plentiful wildlife. The perfect place for hunter gatherer tribes to make a go of it.
Jump to wine country and our widely acclaimed beautiful landscapes. They definitely fit the bill. I get excited when uncovering how things work and when the mechanism relates to art history I’m particularly enthused. The success of wine tourism comes from our atavistic memory of ideal habitat, that many generations of painters and schools of art have helped to solidify. Interestingly that habitat matches the indicators for good terroir, so the visitors here get double satisfaction – seeing those places they were evolved to love, and getting some tasty wine out of it. In terroir, growing conditions for premium winegrapes are going to include: slopes, proximity to water, diverse ecosystem (trees, shrubs, wildlife), hills with varying sun exposure, and favorable soils (fruit, berries and nuts). A walk around here will eventually land you at a strategic vantage point (also important for survival) from which you can perceive successive lines of horizon folding into each other until they turn blue in the distance.
Despite learning I’m programmed to be attracted to this landscape, there is still agency in the land itself, its agricultural production for survival of mankind, including how it’s aspect makes up the bullet points for producing amazing wine, and that consumable product does hold its own beauty for the nose, palette and eye.
1.15.2018The Rainbow Disappears: Is it the Same One? (In her Drawing)
Art is a way to manage the pathos of loss. The rainbow. Art is often cited as arising in human evolution as a way for humans to organize/ grapple with/ control the chaos of the world. Being aware of death is our plight and art is an attempt to reverse and keep what we see, for all in nature is ephemeral, ripe with entropy, death and inevitable loss.
“But is it the same one?” asked Isabel of her rainbow drawing, really believing she’d snatched it from the sky and put it down on paper: preserving the feeling of awe that it inspired in her, a keepsake of that moment where she felt connected to her environs. Overcoming the anxiety that we have as conscious humans to be able to reflect but to be sorely at a loss in being severed from being and the beauty of being immersed in simply living. Art captures the objects that give us a feeling of immersion, and provides in the act of making a new opportunity to feel that sense of awe at nature, of forgetting oneself, of being immersed.
And here is the quote that intersected with Isabel’s comment to inspire this evening’s post: in The Alphabet Vs the Goddess, The conflict between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain, p.29: “all children recapitulate this evolutionary crossroad around the age of seven. They usually understand how babies originate about the same time they come to realize they will not live forever.”
But Isabel isn’t seven yet. And although she sometimes seems like a giant in the room with her character, she is definitely not that advanced (lol). She doesn't know she's going to die yet. She can't be making art to work through her anxiety over her own mortality. I’m going to contend for a more transcendental primary impulse to art making, not in a fashion to overcome our death and control the chaos of the world around us, but an attempt to retrieve, or keep, the fleeting moments of sublime beauty encountered in the day, the viewing of which might have sent a wave of awareness/ connectedness/ merging (not unlike psychotropics) through the humble poor human, evolved so smartly into self-awareness, but feeling so sharply the loss of unity with the universe, left behind evolutionarily in more primal animal states.
I walk around here all the time, my feet give the pattern and my mind wanders, I’m immersed, I’m in the landscape, I’m connected. It’s a big reason why I do our tastings only after dragging my guests through the landscape as well. They’ve had the chance for their mind to be opened, and frankly, anything tastes good after that: I could be selling popsicles. But the amazing confluence of it being wine, a legendary substance that comes from that very landscape that gave the beat of meditation and immersion to our hike, well that’s a marriage of form and content that’s irreplicable.
1.8.2018Wine Can Cleave
This quote from John Ruskin on page 237 of The Invention of Art by Larry Shiner (2001) inspires me tonight: “It is not the labour that is divided, but the men.” It’s from The Nature of Gothic chapter in The Stones of Venice (1854), a seminal document for the Arts and Crafts movement of the Victorian era.
Essentially anti-industrial, Ruskin here laments the havoc wreaked by the loss of traditional methods of production on the artisan’s psyche. Artisans no longer combine skill and creativity as they formerly did when small shops controlled the entire production line and allowed for pride in the final product, be it a shoe or painting. What eventually became Taylorism in the 1910s, sealed a century long transition from artisan production, when craft and art were indistinguishable, to factory production where artisans were demoted to machine operators, or segregated into the “applied” arts of the design sphere, and artists were flung skyward towards the heavens as genius god-like creators freed from the “utility” of pre-industrial arts to create new things, anxiously almost, rushing to stay in front of a tidal wave of cult of novelty called the avant-grade.
Back to Ruskin- this poor artisan’s psyche suffers from being deprived of the meaning gleaned from the ability to see through producing an object in its entirety. I would say that the artist’s psyche from the new heights of revered stardom, suffers equally in being constrained to produce objects that are only non-useful, or if they are useful, are generally co-opted into a museum fast enough to have only briefly served a function outside of being art.
For that reason, I see the making of wine as a chance to operate with a healthy psyche successfully within a cleaved art world where fine art and craft still struggle in their separate spheres for reconciliation. Making wine is enough of an artistic practice, at least in its appearance as it resemble alchemy, the transformation of a primary material into something complex and mysterious and holds the same luxury status as art and jewelry in the open market, to satisfy my impulse to create as an artist but also satisfy my divided impulse to have my creations be useful, applied and connected to everyday living.
Wine-producing is my defiance of the art world, it’s an art project that can’t be co-opted by a museum and can’t be dismissed as craft or applied art for design. It’s a beautiful limbo in this unfortunately divided art world. Hopefully in wine craft cleaves itself to art, or art to craft.
1.1.2018Very Short Introduction
Behind closed doors, I read a lot about art. Now those doors are open. Art theory, aesthetics, evolutionary psychology of art, and art history inspire me. I find in these books source material for new art projects that become the basis of my fiction writing about art. I’m also always thinking about land, wine, walking, landscape, and sublime views. In this blog I’ll make room for those latter thoughts to expand on the page, while keeping the fiction writing for my dream of getting published.