ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS OF ART Essay
This paper will show the relationship between the environment and fine arts. Both of these subjects are evaluated on a perceptual basis of what the observer sees and appreciates. As the basis for this report, it will be determined what is considered art and what comprises the environment.
Defining what is art has been discussed at least since Plato wrote in The Republic about the place of the artist in society. The importance of art to mankind has peculiarly modern implications since only in the past few hundred years has any need been felt to justify or explain art as a significant aspect of human experience. 1
Arts have changed over time and it is somewhat difficult to quantify exactly what is art. Trends in social organization and theory, in religion, philosophy, and ethics, alter mens views about the functions and values of art and about the relative importance of past artists and their works. There is no final answer to the question what are the arts? or to the question what should the arts become?.2 Definitions of art range from a subjective experience of I know what I like to more profound ideas of art that make beauty comprehensible and capable of being perceived through the senses. Another definition makes art the form that results when ideas are expressed in such a way that they are addressed most directly to the emotions of the observer. Neither of these definitions is sufficiently comprehensive. A better definition states art as the presentation in
comprehensible form of the truth perceived by the artist in his experience of life.3 In a more general sense, there are three major visual arts, sculpture, painting, and architecture. Of these three arts, only architecture can be called practical in the generally accepted sense of the word.4 Architecture is the visual art that will be discussed in comparison with the environment. Land art is a form of architectural art that will also be discussed, since it is art that is intimately connected with the environment.
The term environment can be used to describe the space that surrounds humans and their activities; the environment is a set of biological and physical facts in and modified by man.. Man is a powerful agent of change in the environment and undergoes change in time. There is something unique in his species, and gives him a role in the natural community of animals for a dynamic and often unstable contradicting relationship with the space around himself. There is a give and take relationship, a dynamic in space, coupled with a recurrent change, destruction, and renewal; a dynamic in time.5
One of the primary purposes of architecture is to satisfy a basic fundamental human need for shelter, which is a need next only to that for food among mans instincts for preserving life. A building is normally designed for a particular use and this is therefore a factor in determining its form. The construction method is an aspect of architecture that is closely related to the science of engineering and thus makes it possible to trace the entire history of the art through changes in form resulting from the various methods of construction employed at different times in history. An example is the skyscraper which did not originate until the latter part of the nineteenth century due to its extensive use of steel, which is a modern age material.6
Some of the earliest architecture of history developed in the eastern Mediterranean area in the fertile river valleys where agricultural civilizations replaced the more primitive hunting cultures of early man whose main dwellings were caves. An example is that of Egypt in which the stabilizing effect of a fixed and permanent society is seen architecturally in the continuity of tradition and the monumental character of the buildings erected, to which both material and social conditions contributed. The Egyptian society developed alongside the banks of the Nile River in the fertile fields. These fields were frequently flooded by the raging Nile River and personalized the phenomena of life and death.7 The Great Pyramids at Gizeh in Egypt were among the wonders of the ancient world. The Great Pyramids were built in the fourth dynasty of the Old Kingdom, between 2680 BC and 2565 BC. They were the tombs of the Pharaohs Khufu, Khafra, and Menkaura and were built in that order with the Great Pyramid of Khufu being the northernmost and largest of the three. The Great Pyramids remain architectural wonders in todays world with mysteries surrounding their construction.8
The second of the great preclassical cultures whose architecture style reveals the change from temporary and primarily utilitarian buildings to monumental and more lasting ones with the shift from a nomadic life to an agricultural one developed in Mesopotamia. In this region the fertile river valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates provided the sustenance for mortals so they could provide the materials for building habitations.9 A rather curious facet of early architecture of the Egyptians and Greeks was a primary concern for the exterior of the building and much less concern for the interior. A clarity of effect combined with logical construction and refinement of detail are qualities which characterize the Greek way of thinking in all of its expressive form, but many other values were sacrificed to attain them.10 The architecture appears to have been built more strictly for artistic value than actual use. Greek architecture reached its peak in the fifth century BC, and reveals an even and logical progression that is one of the factors differentiating it most vividly from the static and unvarying forms of Egyptian building.11 The Roman architecture is nearest to our modern tastes. In its utilitarianism and striving for grandiose effect, with a frank divorcing of structural and ornamental facts, many parallels can be drawn to average contemporary buildings. Other types also developed and were adapted by later civilizations, such as the football stadium of today which is only a variation of the Roman amphitheater.12 Thus, it can be concluded that historical developments can be traced by studying fine art of architecture and its development.
Today, we are experiencing an energy crisis interwoven with an architectural crisis. The buildings in our contemporary society in which we live and work, consume well over a third of all the energy used in the United States, and the construction of those same structures consumes over 15 per cent of all the energy used in manufacturing. This illustrates the energy wasting nature of our present day society in which the United States, with only 6 per cent of the worlds population, used 35 per cent of the worlds resources and its available energy.13 This clearly shows that in our society today, we need to make more efficient use of architecture to enhance our chances of improving our world of tomorrow. At present, we are on a course to disaster.
The landscape along with the human figure has proven to be the most enduring of artistic inspirations. But in this century, the enthusiasm for its depiction has waned in the facie of the technological preoccupations believed to be more appropriate to our time as abstract art becomes increasingly popular. The landscape, as a traditional subject, has been treated in a most untraditional way by a small number of contemporary artists, who rather than representing it in paint or on canvas or in rhythms of steel, have chosen to enter the landscape itself and use its materials and salient features as artwork. The first works of this kind were by Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria, and Robert Mania, and their works have come to be known as earthworks or land art. Forms of art in the landscape have proliferated dramatically since the late 1960s and early 1970s. It must be noted that only sculptures in earth and sod can properly be described as earthworks. As a result of this type of art, we now have poetry gardens, artist-designed parks, architectural structures, and sculptures in concrete and steel, all of them in the landscape and all of them demonstrating a deliberate and insistent relationship with the environment. Some examples of this type of art are the park projects of the Frenchman Jean-Pierre Raynaud, the photographic manipulations of landscape by the Dutch artist Jan Dibbets, and the plaza and cemetery design of the Italian Arnaldo Pomodoro.14
The peoples relationship to the landscape is one of the most significant expressions of culture, and in many respects is equal in importance to the relationship to the sacred. In fact, the two are not so dissimilar as Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke for many in his generation and also many in ours when he wrote that the noblest ministry of nature is to stand as the apparition of God.15 The grandest achievements nineteenth American landscape painting by Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, and Albert Bierstadt sprang from this philosophical ground. Another example of this is the Thomas Moran painting of the Mountain of the Holy Cross, a peak in Colorado with deep, snow-filled crevices in the shape of a cross near its summit. In the last decade and a half the distinctions between sculpture and other forms of artistic activity have been blurred. This is particularly evident in the landscape art which only sometimes has the formally distinct character of conventional sculpture.16 Land art is in large measure about the landscape itself, pertaining to its scale, its vista, its essentially horizontal character, its topography, and its human and natural history. It also shows the changing characteristics that a work assumes in different conditions; diurnal or nocturnal light, winter glare or summer heart, and full sun or cloud shadow.17
An example of really poor environmental art and lack of intelligent engineering is a water fountain located on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Illinois. The water fountain is in a courtyard bounded by the austere, rigidly functional buildings of Miles van der Rohe. A wall of water gushes forth from this fountain and is forced four feet into the air in the shape of an inverted cone to form a chrysanthemum pattern before falling back into a pool below. The water pressure, temperature and flow rate have been carefully calculated to spew water from a specially designed circular spout that circulates it throughout the year. In subzero weather, a spectator to this art can witness the strange sight of water spouting and falling back on ice and snow encrusting the fountain. Although this fountain is a real work of architectural art that should be environmentally friendly, no one lingers about the fountain in the winter, nor do many spectators observe it in warmer weather. The students do not tarry to gaze at the fountain because its solid wall of rising water connotes power, but not contemplation, which is desirous to enjoy an object of art. The fountain does not have gentle sprays to catch sunbeams and convert them into rainbow. There is no trickling or dripping or gurgling either, only a ponderous rising and falling back into the basin. The fountain is too small to imitate the beauty of Chicagos Buckingham Fountain, several miles distant on the lakefront; it is too gross to capture the mood of the nearby Dove Girl and Turtle Boy fountains.18
This fountain is an example of bad art and poor engineering. It spouts forth in summer heat and winter cold, totally unattended and unwatched, as a symbol of a technology unrelated to human purpose and human aspirations.19 I believe that fine artists could have worked with the engineers on this fountain to help construct an environmentally friendly work of art instead of an atrocity!
This report has discussed the relationship with architecture and the environment. If architecture is carefully planned with the help of artists and not just engineers, it is possible to achieve a environmentally friendly association between the structures and the environment.
1.Beardsley, John, Earthworks And Beyond-Contemporary Arts In The Landscape, Cross River Press, Ltd., New York, New York, 1989
2.Hall, James B. and Barry Ulanov, Modern Culture And The Arts, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, New York, 1967
3.Lynden, Herbert, A New Language For Environment Design, New York University Press, New York, New York, 1972
4.Munro, Thomas, The Arts And Their Interrelations, Press Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, 1969
5.Robb, David M. and J. J. Garrison, Art In The Western World, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, New York, 1963
6.Schwartz, Eugene, Overskill, The Decline of Technology in Modern Civilization, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, Illinois, 1971
7.Stein, Richard G., Architecture And Energy, Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden City, New York, 1972
1 Robb, David M. and J. J. Garrison, Art In The Western World, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, New York, 1963, p. 1
2Munro, Thomas, The Arts And Their Interrelations, Press Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, 1969, p. 3
3 Roob, David M. and J. J. Garrison, Art In The Western World, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, New York, 1963, p. 5
4 Ibid., p. 9
5 Herbert, Lynden, A New Language For Environment Design, New York University Press, New York, New York, 1972, p. 35
6 Hall, James B. and Barry Ulanov, Modern Culture And The Arts, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, New York, 1967, pp. 9-10
7 Ibid., p. 17
8 Ibid., p. 20
9 Ibid., p. 29
10 Ibid., p. 40
11 Ibid., p. 46
12 Ibid., p. 70
13 Stein, Richard G., Architecture And Energy, Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden City, New York, 1972, pp. 1-2
14Beardsley, John, Earthworks And Beyond-Contemporary Arts In The Landscape, Cross River Press, Ltd., New York, New York, 1989, pp. 7-8
15Ibid., p. 8
16Ibid., pp. 8-9
17Ibid., p. 103
18 Schwartz, Eugene, Overskill, The Decline of Technology in Modern Civilization, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, Illinois, 1971, pp. 3-4
19 Ibid., p. 4