How do the ways in which a culture represents landscape in images and texts reflect broader ideas about nature and the relationship between people and land?
That’s the fundamental question addressed in the School of Environment and Sustainability course “Nature, Culture, and Landscape,” led by SEAS Research Scientist Sara Adlerstein-Gonzalez.
An artist and curator herself, Adlerstein-Gonzalez wants her students to understand the power art wields in shaping attitudes toward nature and its capacity to help us see and understand the natural world in new, complex, and sophisticated ways.
David Choberka, UMMA Curator for University Learning and Programs, held a virtual meeting with the class to consider a variety of interrelated topics through the lens of the museum’s extensive and varied collection of landscapes. You can view the entire set of art that the class viewed on the UMMA Exchange.
The group considered how the history of landscape representation in Europe and America can be interpreted as a visualization of the interconnected projects of the Enlightenment, scientific revolution, age of discovery, and colonialism in an effort to map the world as an open space for exploration and mastery. Concurrently, artists in the West also began depicting landscape in a Romantic sense, as a space for individual experience, enrichment, and self-actualization.
The class also engaged in comparative exercises where they juxtaposed the representation of space in a 19th-century American landscape to that of a piece in the southern Chinese style. They then contrasted the diametrically opposed photographic representations of the U.S. seen in the monumental photography of Ansel Adams versus that of the anti-monumental work of Joe Deal.
The class ended the session by considering how several modern works that depict landscape in new and unconventional ways help us think about the natural world differently. A work like Gabor Peterdi’s Spawning (1952), for instance, is an effort to express how ecological processes and time are visualized in our minds.
This session with Adlerstein-Gonzalez’s course is just one example of the ways that UMMA University Learning and Programs creates experiences that dive deep into art as a means of helping us understand human experiences.
Subscribe to UMMA's Faculty Newsletter to learn more about the Museum's work with university learning and research and how you can get in touch anytime to kick around ideas or make plans for collaboration -- Even virtually!