When the opportunity arises to look out over the expanses of a mountain range or the ocean, look closely at the details on an individual flower, or be surrounded by bursts of color, it becomes apparent that nature is capable of invoking a wide berth of emotion in your average human. So it makes sense that artists of all kinds have a long history of being inspired by the natural world. Georgia O’Keefe, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo — all widely known names of those who have channeled nature through a paintbrush. For centuries, artists using a vast array of mediums have tried to capture and convey those feelings and connections to nature through their art.
Art allows us to see nature as another human, one who you will often never meet, perceives it. And getting that glimpse allows us to see a place or object in a way we might not have imagined. That new perspective and that change in scenery is often what invokes that sense of awe and acts as a source of inspiration. For those with an ounce of wanderlust, the last few months of stillness may have you feeling stagnant and uninspired. Art, whether it was put there on purpose or it just occurs naturally can be a source when you feel stuck and everything feels monochromatic. It doesn’t need to be something you can only see hanging in the museums of Paris. It can be found in local galleries, your own home, and even outside.
While taking inspiration from nature makes sense to most, using the outdoors as your gallery is not always the most obvious idea. The art found outdoors can be natural, or it can be human made. Andy Goldsworthy is one of the most well-known artists creating art using natural materials, but he is not alone. These artists use sticks, flowers, leaves, rocks, and any other naturally occurring materials to create an image, a pattern, or really, anything they want. These earth sculptures can be created by anyone, and I imagine some of you have done so without even considering what you were doing. If you have ever moved some rocks or sticks into a pattern, you have begun creating an earth sculpture. They can be hugely elaborate or simple. Even if you think you are not an artist, creating earth sculptures is a great outdoors activity both as an individual or as a family.
Of course, this then brings something else to reflect on. What do you leave behind? Should you dismantle your sculpture or let the wind, rain, and animals slowly dissemble it for you? What level of presence, should we as humans have in nature?
Humans can put nature in their art and make art from nature, but sometimes we don’t need to do a thing for art to exist. We can find images and beauty in rock formations, in clouds, or in a field of flowers. We see these wild places and things as they naturally occur and our human brain turns that into a familiar object. I’m sure many of us have looked at a rock and thought, hmm, that reminds me of…a camel, an elephant, Batman, or literally anything else you can imagine.
It’s the same way our brains see a shadow or an object in the night and trick us into thinking it is a person hiding in the corner. Our brain is trying to figure out the world around us and make connections with the things it already recognizes. Many of us begin doing this as children when we looked up at the fluffy cumulus clouds and pointed at the things we saw in those formations. It is another way we make connections and attempt to bring our lives and nature a little closer together.
Then, of course, we can take ourselves out of the picture. See those places and let them exist as their own work of art. No anthropomorphizing necessary.
In all of these ways, humans are inspired by art and nature, but I also understand that they are not the same. Art cannot replace nature, and even as much as we want to capture those feelings standing at the edge of a cliff or crouched over a flower, art can only get us so far. Artists have put humans enraptured by, apart from, engulfed, dwarfed, and amongst the elements of the natural world in their creations, and although a painting, a sketch, or a sculpture may help to inspire us, it’s not the same as a real life change in scenery. However, we may have to be creative in ways to keep us from getting lost in the dreams of our travel plans that have been put on hold. These past few months of increased stillness have brought many people clarity as to what they value and an appreciation for the things they miss. And when it comes time for your adventures to go from dream world to real world, I am hoping you will take the time to let nature fully inspire you.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. Though the Nature Center is currently closed, including restrooms, due to COVID-19 restrictions, drive-thru sales are available from the Blue Heron Gift Shop and Day Camps are open. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.
Chelsea Jandreau is a Nature Educator at ACNC.