For many years the true beauty of the American nature remained unknown to the broad audience. Where European romanticism sought to establish the new vision of nature, Americans remain largely indifferent to nature as the expression of the artistic thought. It was not before the beginning of the 19th century that landscape has turned into the determining feature of the American romantic and transcendental art. For both Romantics and Transcendentalists, landscapes have come to signify the gradual transition to a more primitive, simpler, and more understandable way of expressing moral sentiments.
For American romantics and transcendentalists, landscapes exemplified the continuous striving toward emotion and intuition in art, instead of persistent reason that had been promoted and spread at times of Enlightenment. As such, landscapes for both romantics and transcendentalists have turned into the major instruments of passionate and emotional expression which was integrally linked to the need for displaying one’s natural admiration with the beauty of the American land.
At the beginning of the 19th century, American artists, as well as writers shared the same romantic conception of the land, and for many of them, landscape had to become a convenient means of self-expression. Similar to transcendentalists, American romantics sought to distinguish themselves from the majority of French artists whose expression had been concentrated on figures, and to pay special attention to nature as a part of their admiration with the American land.
To a large extent, American romantics used landscape as the sensual and sentimental opposition to French Venuses and Psyches, “the bloody and the voluptuous, and the things in which they seem to delight” (Soby & Miller 15). Both romantics and transcendentalists signified the turning point in the American environmental expression and artistic perception, and landscapes has to be used as the sign of the declining wilderness, which had been characteristic of earlier European and American arts (Simpson 137).
This unique combination of non-wilderness and inspiration was designed as the instrument of admiration with regard to untouched nature. Thomas Cole was one of the brightest representatives of American romanticism, with landscapes being the distinguishing feature of his artistic work. It appears, however, that in distinction from his talented compatriots, Cole tried to fill his landscapes with a sense of creativity.
Simultaneously, landscapes for romantics and transcendentalists were designed to confirm the growing need for simplicity that bordered on primitivism, with the latter being associated with a feeling of wild grandeur which American romanticism tried to explore and later express in painting. Moreover, with the emergence of transcendentalism Americans were given a unique opportunity to fully appreciate the value of “civilized wilderness” from a more positive and optimistic viewpoint. Up to nineteenth century the forest, the wilderness, was, for most Americans, a dark, fearful, unholy place” (Simpson 138), and nothing else but landscapes could change those growing negative perceptions about art. Perceptions – and not reason and empiricism – had to characterize the essence of romanticism and transcendentalism in the American painting art. For the majority of transcendentalists, intuition and emotion rather than science and reason were used as the instruments of finding the ultimate truth, and landscapes were an extremely convenient means of expressing the earthy embodiment of intuitive human attempts.
For example, in his Celestial Road Hawthorne comes down to express his genuine admiration with the development of a railroad between the City of Destruction and the Celestial City – the line that on the one hand, underlines the role of natural wilderness in transcendental artistic attitudes, and on the other hand, depicts the long-term consequences of eliminating this wilderness through gradual civilization and urbanization of the land. It interested me much to learn that by the public spirit of some of the inhabitants a railroad has recently been established between this populous and flourishing town and the Celestial City” (Hawthorne). In this context, the influence of romanticism and transcendentalism expands to cover not only painting, but literature, turning landscapes into a universal tool of searching for an earthy expression of non-wilderness as a part of the growing American patriotism. It would be fair to say that in romanticism and transcendentalism, landscapes reminded a kind of artistic ideology, with nature in its center.
Simultaneously, landscapes were used with the need to bring the art down to earth and to make it more understandable to the broad audiences. Both romantics and transcendentalists “sought a simpler life in more primitive landscapes, lifestyles, and societies, a beauty, a purity, a correctness long lost in the hustle and bustle of the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment” (Simpson 141). Romantics and transcendentalists used landscapes to prove the inherent goodness of nature which also resulted in the goodness of the human society as a whole.
Obviously, for both trends to prove the relevance of individual freedom, goodness, and the value of emotion and intuition was impossible without applying to the goodness of nature; as a result, landscapes have turned into an extremely flexible and universally acceptable instrument of linking personal liberty and morality to broader patriotic trends. Conclusion To a large extent, the emergence of romanticism and transcendentalism in the American art was closely associated with the development of the broader Americanized attitudes.
Landscapes were used to confirm the simplicity and comprehensibility of art, and to link the vision of nature to the growing feeling of patriotism. Landscapes were convenient sources of artistic self-expression and made art closer to masses; finally, landscapes were used to confirm the positive nature of art, and consequentially, the positive nature of society in general, creating a complex conjunction of emotion, intuition, liberty, and the sense of self-fulfillment.
Courtney from Study Moose
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