About a week ago, I did something that even to me was wholly unexpected. I reopened and started re-reading my old art textbooks that had been the basis of an art history bachelor’s degree. As I was re-reading my scribbled notes, as I remembered furiously typing out my thesis, and as I looked over the intricacies of sculpture, architecture, drawing, and painting, I was reminded of how many parallels that knowledge and those studies had in my current line of work, and in my passions of photo, writing, and of course outdoor life.
I’m currently re-reading Giorgio Vasari’s ‘Lives Of The Artists’, an anecdotal tale of the renaissance masters, from Giotto through Michelangelo. One of the most striking details of the Lives, is not the subject matter of what was mainly religious art, but the development of landscape, depictions of the natural world, the movement of the human body, and the intimate reliance on science and naturality to depict what was closest to real life.
I wrote my university thesis on the development of Giotto, from his humble starts drawing a lamb on the side of a rock as a shepherd, for which he was discovered, to his, at the time, groundbreaking depictions of personality and emotion in his figures, and of course his depiction of landscape and the natural world. Giotto’s assertion was that painting and art was meant to follow, and if so, improve upon nature. It should be ideal, but at the same time, it should be grounded in reality.
Similarly, I’ve maintained a belief that Leonardo da Vinci, who is viewed as a great painter, was less so of an artist, and more of a statesman, engineer, naturalist, and scientist. Throughout his life, as seen from his notebooks, sketches, designs, and studies, he was more interested in the curiosities of why and how, rather than appeasing masses with a certain theme, even if it was for religious and church purposes. It was artists like da Vinci, and architects such as Brunelleschi who aimed to remove the idea of flatness, and introduce architectural-like landscapes, and of course, the idea of perspectives and vanishing points in their art.
In modern artistic depictions of outdoor culture, whether through photography, film, drawing, or even writing, the same principles apply as they have for hundreds of years: to idealistically replicate and improve upon nature. Photography for example, takes into effect the same laws as painting: to take an interesting focal point, and lead the eye into a multitude of directions. What I’ve always found interesting, particularly, is in the depiction of action sport such as climbing, slacklining, even running, or mountaineering, is keeping the subject, the athlete, as small as possible and letting the aesthetics dictate the nature and composition.
One of my favorite photos, taken last year, was of a crack ascent in Utah. What I particularly enjoyed about this photo wasn’t the act of climbing itself, but of the parallel aesthetic, the split through the middle, and the contrast of colors, from the bright orange rock to the blue of the shirt.
With getting back in touch, in a way, with the roots of the ideas that I’ve studied, I’ve been able to revive in a way, how I approach the depiction of nature, figures, and sport in visual and textual art.
I find myself filled with a curiosity, much like those of the masters, for understanding texture, perspective, landscape, and the movement and twisting of the human body, not unlike Michelangelo-esque studies of the human body, or Leonardo’s notebooks on muscle movement, contortion, and the way that the body moves naturally.
What I plan to do, is take these principles, and apply them to in Giotto’s words: replicate and improve upon nature. I believe firmly that in taking the idea of outdoor art, which is steeped in a niche culture, and applying old principles, such as different perspectives and architectural-like design, it becomes something new and exciting.