King to show changes in perception of nature through art


Elaine King

Elora Tocci | Staff Writer

Elaine King will deliver her lecture, “Artists, Nature and Environmental Change” at 7 p.m. tonight in the Hall of Christ.

King, who is an art critic and historian and a professor in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University, said her lecture will focus on artists’ portrayal of nature within a historical context. But the discussion will not focus strictly on paintings or pastel colors — it will be a broader dialogue about the evolution of the natural world and current environmental problems.

King said she chose the topic because it’s timely and relevant to the broad audience at Chautauqua. She has visited here many times and knows the diverse mix of people the Institution attracts.

“The population at Chautauqua is much larger than just the arts — people come for religion, political science, social policy, drama and music,” she said. “I wanted to appeal to that entire audience.”

She said she will show about 40 images from a mix of artists to examine how perception of nature has changed radically. She will start off by looking at 18th- and 19th-century work, primarily paintings, from artists including Claude Lorrain, John Constable and William Turner. Their work is mainly concerned with ideas of truth and sublime beauty and shows picturesque glimpses of the natural world back then.

King will then show work that depicts a darker world, one tainted by smog, coal and smokestacks.

“As we evolved, attitudes changed, and the industrial movement began to show up in artists’ work,” she said. “It’s how artists saw nature, as well as what man began to do with nature.”

From there, artists such as Richard Long started creating land art, which uses natural, organic materials to create landscape pieces. Today, much of contemporary art involving nature focuses on sustainability of the planet and manifests in a variety of mediums, from videos to installations to paintings. The work often centers on urban issues or environmental problems and many times serves as a critique of human abuse of the environment.

“These are seldom the most beautiful pictures,” King said. “They’re searching for answers, or displaying political ideologies, or showing how humans have tried to dominate nature.”

She said artists are great speakers on this topic because they address issues in a different way, sending messages to which people pay attention.

This dialogue is certainly not limited to art, as the world is filled with reminders of environmental concern, whether it’s a park bench or a Starbucks coffee cup made from recycled material.

But artists can use different mediums to depict and discuss issues of the environment in a way that can get people to think.

“Artists can provoke a sense of urgency and stir us up to bring forth social, political and environmental change,” King said