In the later 18th century in the west, with the new philosophical emphasis on the sublime and the Romantic championing of nature and the natural, landscape painting began to be an important art form. Romantics saw the landscape in a new light, as able to express lofty ideals on its own without illustrating stories from history or classical myth. For some Romantics, art was a product of divine religious inspiration and the mystic experience of the dynamic forces of the universe was to be found in nature. The idea that landscape could convey an image of divine power was a new and radical one in the nineteenth century.
Church, The Heart of the Andes
In the early to mid nineteenth century American religious art took the form of landscapes that were “Edenic, majestic, gorgeous and bombastic, rather than historical scenes of biblical enactment” (Arthur Danto) in the works of the so-called Hudson River School of which these paintings by Church are two.
In the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the ability of technology to master and control the environment, the conversion of nature into culture and the expansion of industrial capitalism all affected the way people felt about their place in the world. The world was becoming increasingly unfamiliar and alien: a gigantic impersonal maze of bewildering urban spaces, new experiences of space and time caused by new modes of travel, dislocation, flux, change.
Burtynsky, Wan Zhou
Is it the case that the great 19th century revolutionary political and social projects which had promised personal and societal liberation have created instead a world in which the individualâ€™s fate seemed to be more than ever dominated by vast impersonal and unknowable bureaucratic political and economic structures? The empowerment offered by industrial technology is increasingly offset by the terrible price paid for technological advances: pollution, devastation of resources, human bondage and large scale war.
Burtynsky, Oil Fields 13
Burtynsky, Nickel Tailings 43
Polidori, Cafeteria Pripyet Chernobyl
To see more works by Edward Burtynsky, click here.