Changing Landscapes

The following is a reflection. It is a reflection of my thoughts, my impressions, my reactions to the art I witnessed and experienced while visiting the WSU art museum for a second time, the day following our tour with Dr. Wells. I am choosing to write in this style because it seems to be the style in which landscape art is painted—a mere reflection of the creator’s perception. It permits the audience to step into the artist’s vision of reality and perhaps to experience Life in the same manner as the artist. Here is the reality of my trip through “Changing Landscapes”:

Upon entering, I am faced with a wall of Palouse interpretations. How would one describe the Palouse to a foreigner? To me, the Palouse is rolling wheat fields that turn shades of green, brown, and yellow with the passing of seasons. But truly, the Palouse is as it is to each and every individual, the way in which it is perceived varying greatly from one person to another. One may feel a fondness and longing for the endless hills or feel overpowered by the loneliness it instills. All is portrayed in these first few paintings. As with all art, each is a perception of the artist’s reality.

Continuing on I begin to wonder why an artist paints in the style he/she does. Could she paint another way? Could Picasso have painted with the strokes of Monet? Or would Picasso’s water lilies have turned out sharply edged, bright orange, and oddly shaped?

Most vivid and life-like in appearance stands the works of Choultse in his oils on canvas. Brush strokes so carefully placed upon the canvas, a passerby may be forced to stop and examine the painted photography. So true to form! Each painting dares the viewer to step inside, to climb over the restricting frame and stroll along the inviting forested pathway into the horizon and beyond. And who knew so many shades of white may be mixed upon the artist’s pallet to create a winter wonderland, in Choultse’s Under the Snow in Switzerland. I can smell the freshly fallen snow and feel my ears sting in the warmthless sunshine of a winter morning.

Other such paintings continue on down the wall. These artists seem to see things purely as they are, with every shade and tint of color contrasting starkly from one another--one, two, three shades of greens jumping out of each leaf on Choultse’s springtime trees; the individual violet-tinged grey footsteps trodden through the distant snow-covered valley in Wuermer’s Midwinter Morning. The attention given to perception of existing colors is incredulous.

Yet another oil on canvas, George Inness’ Evening Landscape is a wholly different perspective. Colors are dark, blended together, a feeling of mystery overlays the picture; sheer size makes one feel lost in the woods. This being my second visit to the museum, I can’t help but focus on the symbolism within the painting, previously pointed out by Dr. Wells. I am distracted from the art itself. The posture of the man carrying a bundle of wood upon his back is identical to that of the work oxen trudging along in the distance. No longer am I warmed by the image of Nature’s beauty and the reminiscence of sunrise fishing trips on summer mornings; I feel melancholy, saddened by the time period and this portrayal of class stratification and inequality.

Impressionist paintings farther down the wall seem perfect opposites of the works viewed earlier. How can two artists see the same subject through such vastly different lenses? Choultse’s thousands of tiny leaves detailed so much as to vivify the way the sunlight dances upon each leaf, now taken over by one bold, rapid swoop of another artist’s brush. Do artists truly perceive with such disparity? One so finely focusing upon infinitesimal details, the other seeing only the broader masses of substance, merely a collage of the former’s details? If standing upon the edge of an orchard, does the first immediately focus upon the aphids on each leaf of every tree, and the second sees only one large grove of trees, a single entity of the landscape?

And then there is the issue of color. The color scheme of William Henry Clapp’s Untitled, in which a hillside and quiet meandering brook are painted in nothing but shocking fluorescence, is distracting to me. Does the artist see Life with such vivacity and outrageous whim? That man must need to wear sunglasses when viewing Life.

There is a painting toward the back corner of the museum which I am again drawn to. It is John E. Costigan’s The Big Tree. It stands alone in style, tone, and color usage. Gnarled branches extend among a grove of old willow trees creating a maze of color and lines while a peasant woman crouches beneath, followed by a goat. The woman appears enthralled by her work, oblivious to the ominous surroundings. Perhaps she gathers firewood for the bitterly cold night ahead. But the goat stares straight out of the painting as if it has heard the approach of danger, perhaps the viewer. The picture seems to call out that it is October, Halloween fast approaching. Most striking to me is the beautiful shade of blue used in the painting—nothing can describe it. It is in the trees, the distant sky, the blanket of fallen leaves, the woman and her goat. It seems to draw everything in the scene together while forcing each piece to stand out vividly. Without it, the image would cease to Live.

From here the pictures take on a much more modern feel—the cartoonish style of Pearlstein’s rock formations, the overlaid images and metallic feel of Robillard and the black and white designs of Siler’s The Great Heart of the Palouse Prairie. These I feel no connection to. They do not speak of landscape to me. Art? Yes, but nothing I would choose to mull over for any length of time.

Sharp edges, lifeless images, and uninviting tones take over the far wall. Palouscape 3-83 illustrates an architectural spin as does the name, itself. Does the artist see his surroundings in these disciplined lines, straight edges, and lifeless forms? Is he troubled by them in the same way that I am when viewing the art? Perhaps he seeks to portray the advent of an industrialized Palouse landscape.

Robert Helms’ Iron Ground I find ghastly and menacing, with cold steely colors, a bleak and unattractive structure taking center placement. Reminds me of a scene from somewhere...I can’t think of where—perhaps from a nightmare? My skin crawls just looking at it. Loneliness, unease, God knows what’s in that water—am I suddenly on some hellish planet?

The paintings continue to become more grotesque and more unwelcoming in appearance with the demonic worlds of Callahan. Blood reds, black, dark blues, menacing purplish tones—sharp lines, illegible scrolling, clouds of brazen figures. Pity the souls who see the world as he.

But finally we are brought back—PHOTOGRAPHY. Real, calm, almost eerily calm after viewing the previous images. Would the artists whose works I’ve been viewing get to this point of the display and see only a reflection of the images which they have painted in their own styles? A reflection of the perceptions they have struggled to physically and visibly portray? Where is the true reality? Maybe reality is relative to the individual. Just as the sign at the introduction of the display poses the question ‘What is here?’, maybe the ultimate question is: ‘What is reality?’


by Bethany Brown

Major: Microbiology/Pre-Veterinary
Expected Graduation: May 2004
Hometown: Portland, Oregon

In writing this paper I wanted to use a different style and tone than in previous papers written for this class. Writing becomes very boring and monotonous to me unless I feel the freedom to attempt new styles and techniques. This paper was written directly (almost verbatim) from the notes I took while touring the art museum alone one morning.

Great student papers