Based on a paper titled “A Comparison of Nature” by Misty Smith. Originally published on October 9, 2016, for FAS 202: Introduction to Humanities II, at Southern New Hampshire University.
A Comparison of Nature
The theme that I have chosen for my assignment is the beauty of nature. I have always been drawn to nature, be it the beauty of the serene relaxation or the chaotic emotional waves of danger. The first selection of artwork is titled A View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm, also known as The Oxbow, and it was painted in 1836 by Thomas Cole. A View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm, also known as The Oxbow, was created in the medium of oil on canvas and was mentioned in a letter to Cole’s patron Luman Reed that the piece was to be for sale after a period of exhibition. The current location of The Oxbow is at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met, 2016). This student has selected as a contemporary comparison to The Oxbow by Thomas Cole the landscape photograph titled Bering Sea Sunset by Christopher Zimmer. Bering Sea Sunset was the Photo of the Day, April 16, 2010, for National Geographic magazine and can be found online at the National Geographic website (National Geographic, 2010). Both pieces of art use nature to show that danger can be within beauty; as a result, prompts this student to the personal belief that nature, in any form, must be appreciated and yet feared- or watched, at all times.
The Oxbow by Thomas Cole was painted on canvas in oil during the romanticism period of art. The wild and untamed landscape is conveyed with the curved lines, brilliant and intense colors, trees, water, and the impending storm on the horizon. Furthermore, Cole painted using the rule of thirds by drawing the eye to focal points that were not centered. The atmospheric perspective of looking down into the valley as the storm approaches symbolize the feeling of anxiety of some type of danger approaching, although surrounded by beauty and calmness. Historically, The Oxbow was to show how beautiful America was during a period of time that Europeans had so selfishly disregarded their beautiful land (The Hudson River School, 2016).
In comparison, the modern photography piece Bering Sea Sunset by Christopher Zimmer focuses on the water crashing on the rocks of Margaret Bay in Dutch Harbor, Alaska (National Geographic, 2010). The beauty of the Bering Sea is outlined by the mountains in the background, while the waves crashing shows that danger is present in the beauty. The clouds in the distance show the signs of a storm’s pending arrival. Zimmer captures the sunset in all of its brilliance and intensity of color. The storms and the use of the rules of thirds are similar in each work of art, bringing the eye to focus points that are not center. The beauty of nature has been captured for all of eternity to enjoy in the works of the world’s artists. Cole captured the feeling of danger and the unknown with the winding of the river in The Oxbow. He used the rule of thirds to bring the viewers’ attention to the details within the turns of the water. Furthermore, the photograph Bering Sea Sunset reminds us that nature cannot be contained and that its beauty can turn at any moment into a beautiful rage. All of these comparisons can also be applied to humanity as we, in essence, are a part of nature and the world and it is our responsibility to respect, fear, and protect our environment.
Today, both works can be used as a reminder of the beauty of nature, and how easily the beauty can become dangerous – or utterly destroyed. The Oxbow “furthermore responds to contemporary artistic debates by encompassing “a union of the picturesque, the sublime, and the magnificent” (The Hudson River School, 2016). Cole influenced an entire movement with his works such as The Oxbow and View on the Catskill—Early Autumn have come to be known as the Hudson River School (The Met, 2016). On the other hand, Zimmer’s contribution to the world of art can be accredited, in part, to how technology has become less expensive and is allowing more individuals to go out and capture the world around them.
Furthermore, by using modern photography, Christopher Zimmer was able to capture the ferocity of nature in action through Bering Sea Sunset – with the waves crashing angrily against the rocks. Other works by Christopher Zimmer which produce the feeling that one should respect nature are Grand Prismatic Spring (2009) and Horseshoe Bend (2006) (National Geographic, 2010). Both works can be used as reminders that we must take heed of nature and either help protect or ignore and speed up destruction. In comparison, The Oxbow reminded those, during its time, to be kind, yet vigilant. The same can be spoken of with Bering Sea Sunset, especially amidst the time of global climate change. To illustrate, the Bering Sea is currently in danger of being completely destroyed by climate change, if the human race does not stand up as a unified front to combat, stop, and reverse the damage that has been inflicted to nature by our advances in technology and overuse of natural resources (Appel, 2006). Ironically, Zimmer uses such technological advances to capture the sheer beauty of the Bering Sea in his artwork.
Another contemporary piece of artwork that expresses similar themes to The Oxbow and Bering Sea Sunset is Graffiti by the mysterious, and identity yet unknown, street artist who goes only by the name of Banksy. Banksy is known for his/her/their social and political statements and has been likened to a collective more than just one individual (“Banksy”, 2016). With the work of art Graffiti we see that a man is destroying an ancient work of art from a cave wall, showing that mankind destroys as much as he creates. The work can be compared to the Grotte Chauvet drawings located in Southern France where ca. 40,000-year-old cave art is now under protection due to mankind destroying the work by simply visiting the site (BBC News, 2015).
As previously stated, with the work of Zimmer, with today’s society being plugged into technology at every turn, we have become used to seeing all aspects of nature captured in the form of art. Nature has brought us to our knees with destruction such as hurricanes and tornadoes, and yet, on the other hand, lifted us up to where we are as the human race with a climate that has allowed us to thrive and evolve. The span of years between The Oxbow, Bering Sea Sunset, and Graffiti only enhances the evidence that we are not yet, as a unified society, in agreement that we must appreciate the relationship we have with our planet and take steps to protect it, as a result, some individuals are vehemently denying such things as climate change is occurring. For example, the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is on record stating that climate change is a “hoax created by the Chinese government” (Jacobson, 2016), and has no plans in place to curb climate change if elected and if anything his plans of deregulation will open up the planet to an environmental disaster (U.S. News,2016). Sadly, many of his supporters also claim this viewpoint and are against any regulations that could result in positive change towards healing our planet and persevering nature.
On the other hand, many individuals are aware that we as a race are helping to destroy nature even further with climate change that has been accelerated by our advances in technology, while others are oblivious to the facts. For example, during the current United States Presidential race, we have two top candidates who are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to protection of fragile environment and nature. However, the Democratic party nominee Hillary Clinton does acknowledge that nature is in trouble and has a plan outlined to curb the effects by humans on the climate change disaster. Mrs. Clinton states, “I won’t let anyone take us backward, deny our economy the benefits of harnessing a clean energy future or force our children to endure the catastrophe that would result from unchecked climate change” (Clinton, 2016).
To conclude, we can look at art and find aesthetic beauty and nothing more. However, if we look deeper we can open our minds to the entire world around us. We can undoubtedly see a lesson to be learned from studying the meaning of Cole’s The Oxbow on a humanities level. As a result, we can see that the same lesson is to be seen in Bering Sea Sunset and shouted at us through Graffiti. Throughout history, we have been the keepers of this planet, and we have failed miserably on numerous occasions. Artists who concentrate on the subjects of nature, and more importantly climate issues, have the responsibility of not only bringing in the aesthetic beauty of their art but to highlight deeper meanings that make the individual viewers a target of something more – of shaping their minds into wanting to do better.
Appel, A. (2006). National Geographic Magazine. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/03/0309_060309_bering_sea.html
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BBC News. (2015). France creates replica cave for spectacular prehistoric art. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32248963
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