A&O – MEDIA – NATURE – earth, air, fire, water




Andy Goldsworthy




earth, air, fire, water


“ART is a fragment of nature seen through a temperament.”

(Emile Zola 1886)

Andy Goldsworthy




In the early years of the first century AD, Seneca wrote,

Omnis ars naturae imitatio est.:

All art is but imitation of nature.”

it is a representation of nature, of course: perhaps “collaboration with nature” would be more precise — even so far as “a representation of the creator,” since any artist, like all organisms, represents the outcome of processes that engage with existential intimacy, all elements of the environment.  

As the great Romantic Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge put it, “Now Art, used collectively for painting, sculpture, architecture and music,  is the mediatress between, and reconciler of, nature and man.  It is,  therefore, the power of humanizing nature, of infusing the thoughts and  passions of man into everything which is the object of his contemplation”   (Coleridge, On Poesy or Art, 1818). [In science we seek to liberate (as much as may be possible) ourselves of the biases and prejudices of our communities and tribes and culture. Is art different? –often art seeks to characterize the culture itself]

  • Said clearly by Emile Zola,[i] “Art is a fragment of nature seen through a temperament.” Fifty years later, Joseph Wood Krutch emphasized that art “Even when it is most determinedly realistic, … is conceived in accordance with the laws and limitations of the human mind…..even the most desperately `naturalistic’ art…is, at its most literal, nature passed through a human mind….”  (Krutch, 1932) [bold emphasis mine]


The materials that constitute the media artists most famously employ–pigments, clay, marble, pen-and-paper–can be vastly expanded to include anything that can transcend the moment of creation.  In the performing arts, the moment of creation is preserved in the minds of viewers often facilitated by notes, photography, cinematics… we can feel in this the subtle differences between ART and ARTIFACT.  


But also needed is some statement of the incredible intimacy many artists pursue with the medium they employ to represent their state of mind—to give it, as Byron said of dreams,  “a breath to forms which can outlive all flesh”  (from The Dream by Lord Byron, 1816)





Earth Art. (a.k.a. Land Art, the earth including what grows thereon is the medium, deeply informed by environmentalism.)

STONE may be a good medium to trace the cognitive processes by which ARTIFACT becomes ART:   Catalyzed by https://www.openculture.com/2017/10/the-philosophical-appreciation-of-rocks-in-china-japan.html, I began Looking for source of “ Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it, often attributed to Michelangelo (but cannot find provenance (Quote investigator: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/06/22/chip-away/) to rock tumbler, gemstones, Stonehenge, monuments, and Andy Goldworthy’s land art.  & see A&O’s EARTH, AIR, FIRE, and WATER  



AIR (invisible, incorporeal, the “inspiration” for spiritual, the breath of life)







  • violent transformations” by Cornelia Parker:  Since the late 1980s, Parker has produced some of the most arresting works in contemporary art by harnessing – as outrageous agents of creative change – everything from plastic explosives to steamrollers, snake venom to the very blade of the guillotine that lopped off the head of Marie Antoinette….Tate Britain has assembled nearly 100 of Parker’s sculptures, installations, drawings, films and photographs, chronicling more than three decades of her determination to wring from the bruised, broken and battered fragments of life an indestructible beauty. It’s all here: from small drawings made by sewing through paper a fine wire fashioned from melted bullets, to the explosive large-scale works that shot Parker to prominence 30 years ago, including the suspended remnants of a garden shed that she persuaded the British Army to help her blow to smithereens in 1991.” https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20220621-cornelia-parker-the-artist-who-likes-to-blow-things-up
  • Recalls show I saw at Guggenheim: I Want to Believe,  a spectacular site-specific presentation:  comprehensive survey to date of work by the innovative artist Cai Guo-Qiang within the museum’s galleries, in “four categories: gunpowder drawings; explosion events, which are documented by videos, photographs, and related drawings; installations, including Inopportune: Stage One (2004) with its nine cars filling the void of the rotunda’s central space; and social projects, which are documented by photographs.”   MORE on Cai
  • Also an exhibition of Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting, on view in 2015… he created “surfaces and supports out of humble and prefabricated materials. … Sacchi (sacks), for which the artist used unpainted burlap that functions as both support and ground. Burri’s other series— Catrami (tars), Muffe (molds), Gobbi (hunchbacks), Bianchi (whites), Legni (woods), Ferri (irons), Combustioni plastiche (plastic combustions), Cretti, and Cellotex—feature various industrial and household materials that the artist cut, burned, welded, and otherwise altered to create his paintings.”


[i]. From my 1988 paper, “Art, Science, Arete”:  Emile Zola (writing of art) termed “fragments of nature seen through a temperament.” (Emile Zola (1886), “Proudhon et Courbet,” In Mes Haines (Paris: Bibliotheque- Charpentier, 1923). Originally published in 1886. “Une oeuvre d’art est un coin de la creation vu a travers un temperament” (p.25).   Zola later changed `creation’ to `nature’.     Zola quotes Claude Bernard in The Experimental Novel near the end of Part I: “The appearance of the experimental idea,” he says further on, “is entirely spontaneous and its nature absolutely individual, depending upon the mind in which it originates; it is a particular sentiment, a quid proprium, which constitutes the originality, the invention, and the genius of each one.”  [This view recalls Longfellow’s “Art is the . . . revelation of nature, speaking through man” (Hyperion, 1839).  It was then reinvigorated by Joseph Wood Krutch (Experience and Art, N.Y.:  Collier Books, 1962]






| visual/graphic/painting | auditory/music/song | chemosensory/ scent/taste | performance /dance/acting | tactile | language |