People have drawn and painted throughout all of recorded history. Often, the only records which remain of old cultures are those works of art and the tools left behind. Early cave paintings have been dated to be over 30,000 years old. More than 300 of these paintings have been discovered. Most of them depict local animals, objects, and the outlines of human hands. The landscape was never drawn, perhaps because they experienced the harsh realities of the landscape every day as they struggled to survive. Why draw it when you are in the middle of it every day? Food and shelter were of the utmost importance, while art was a luxury item, as it is today.
Although early works of cave art were rather basic compared to what is produced in modern times, the one thing they have in common with today’s paintings and drawings is they tell stories. Therefore, one of the main themes of this book is how to tell a story. Shamen and others often painted in caves in attempts to coax the animals to multiply or to allow themselves to be caught. The paintings depicted stories of the hunt and the hopes for future hunts. They were full of meaning and sometimes color, just as they are today.
As time went by, more recent cave paintings from 10,000 years ago and later, show humans engaged in hunting. Sometimes the animals depicted aren’t roaming the area today. For example, some cave paintings in France show hyenas and lions. Cave paintings from 5,000-8,000 years ago are more sophisticated and tell more complex stories, but the landscape is still missing.
So, step number one towards creating art from the landscape is to tell a good story!
Highly skilled artists created art even in prehistoric times. This cave painting goes far beyond a simple record. Just look at the color and aggressive posture. Movement and drama can be important elements on landscape photographs, so we can learn even from the oldest surviving works of art. The drive to create art could be written in our DNA!
Egyptian Art (5,000BCE – 300AD)
Art is created and consumed only when there’s free time available above and beyond the basic needs of survival. That’s as true today as ever. Civilization and specialization allow cultures to rise above subsistence level. Art in Ancient Egypt rose to a high standard, especially after about 3,000BCE, because the pharaohs had the resources to train, pay and/or enslave full-time artists. These artists didn’t have to find or grow food, so they had lots of time to work and develop their craft. Therefore, the quality and magnitude of art reached new levels of perfection. But the landscape was rarely seen because symbolism was the primary goal of art in ancient Egypt. And the pharaohs dictated those goals. Everything had meaning, from the color of the human figures, to what the figures were doing.
The styles and techniques of Egyptian art remained almost exactly the same (with minor modifications) for nearly 3,000 years. It was all about preserving a record of the times to bring back good memories to the Pharaohs in the afterlife. Not only were works of art on the walls of the tombs and buildings, but they were painted on papyrus scrolls as well. They were portable and could be considered the first fine art prints, which are still created today. Since the climate is extremely dry throughout most of Egypt, many fine drawings and paintings still remain in excellent condition. They contain a significant record of what life must have been like, at least for the privileged people back then.
This is a second step towards creating art from the landscape. Record what you see (or feel) as accurately as is possible. Provide yourself and the viewers with a memorable experience. Photos are really all about memories and imaginary memories.
Wall paintings from ancient Egypt rarely showed the landscape except in the most stylized of ways. However, movement and action were emphasized to tell the story and bring reality to the viewer. We should do that today in landscape photography. However, we don’t have to worry about creating art for our loved ones after they pass away, as this work of art might have been intended!
Greek Art (2,500BCE – 146BCE)
This period also covers an immense period of time, ending when the Romans finally conquered the Corinthians in 146BCE. Everyone knows about the great sculptures, pottery and architecture of ancient Greece, but drawing and painting began to take on more of a modern form during this period. Unfortunately, although the ancient Romans described many impressive works of Greek art, few works survive to this day. In fact, few Roman copies of Greek works have survived the fall of the Roman Empires. The winners of wars have a way of erasing the past.
This mural is typical of the few remaining examples of ancient Grecian painting. It’s precise and the color remains vivid considering the passage of time. However, this is a story about an animal sacrifice and whatever landscape scenery might have been included in more modern art was considered unimportant and left out of the work. This scene does make one think about what is going to happen to the lamb. Anticipation felt by the viewer can be an important element in landscape photography. It can make the viewer think about a wave’s impending crash on the beach or a storm that’s about to strike.
The Art of Rome (508BCE – 400AD)
The Roman Empire began as a small region in and around the city of Rome in 508BCE. Within 300 years it had grown to cover most of modern-day Italy. By 180AD, it had reached its zenith of power and land area, stretching from modern-day England and Spain in the west to Egypt and Turkey in the east. Although there were many power struggles and problems, a wealthy upper-class arose as money flowed in from taxes which were imposed on the conquered. Also, improved trade and technological improvements increased wealth dramatically. Leisure time and money allowed the arts to flourish for hundreds of years.
The paintings of ancient Rome didn’t focus on the beauty of the landscape, but rather on story telling via wall murals and book illustrations. However, Roman art began to include more advanced concepts such as liner perspective with the inclusion of background landscapes and views. Also, more attempts were made to put subjects into their proper perspective. Perspective was studied extensively to produce the illusionistic Trompe-l’œil (fr: To trick the eye). In this way, walls were painted to appear to extend into other rooms. Flat and low ceilings were made to appear vaulted or domed. Landscapes were painted as if you could see them out an imaginary window.
Wealthy members of society became detached from nature, so there was a need to escape from the confines of windowless rooms in large cities. At its zenith, the population of Rome may have surpassed 1 million before losing most of its population over the next 5 centuries.
Ville Boscoreale was uncovered from the ash deposits of Vesuvius around the year 1900. There are many paintings from this place now in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art showing expansive scenes depicting imaginary other rooms complete with bowls on tables etc. In this wall mural depicting a cithara player and a girl standing behind her, you can see the attention to detail and color shown by the artist. Detail was important even back then, and it also is crucial in today’s landscape photography. Pay attention to the fine details, especially around the edges of the frame. Your viewers will appreciate the effort.
The Paintings of Ancient India (5500BCE – 500AD)
Painting evolved in India more than 7,000 years ago in the form of paintings on rocks and in caves. Unfortunately few if any of the oldest works remain visible today. However, approximately 2,000 years ago, Indian painting gradually became complex. Around the 1st century BCE, the Sadanga or Six Limbs of Indian Painting were evolved. They are a series of canons laying down the main principles of the art.
These ‘Six Limbs’ have been translated as follows:
Rupabheda: The knowledge of appearances.
Pramanam: Correct perception, measure and structure.
Bhava: Action of feelings on forms.
Lavanya Yojanam: Infusion of grace and artistic representation.
Sadrisyam: Similitude: (Similar reoccurrences)
Varnikabhanga: Artistic manner of using the brush and colors.
These ‘ Six Limbs ‘ were put into practice by Indian artists, and are the basic principles on which their art was founded. The large amount of information about each of these six limbs goes far beyond the scope of this book and is well thought out. It’s also similar to some of the basic principles of landscape photography because it deals with composition, framing, story, color, artistry, etc. look up these words, and “Indian painting” and explore them fully. Learn from the ancient tried and true methods.
This mural is complex. It’s similar to some of the best Renaissance paintings which show dozens of people engaged in dramatic scenes from the Bible or a Greek myth. There are only the most basic signs of a setting, but the attention to quality and story telling is something landscape photographers can try their best to achieve.