The Shorelines Symposium which took place at Rozelle Maclaurin last week included presentations by two keynotes Ian McGilchrist (author of The Master and his Emissary), Chris Drury (artist) as well as a number of others.
The Symposium was organised in conjunction with Alison Bell and Cathy Treadaway‘s exhibition Shorelines currently at in the Maclaurin Galleries. It was great that a Symposium of this quality took place in Ayr. We need more of this quality of thinking and discussion.
Jan van Boeckel of the Nature – Art – Education research group at Aalto University, School of Art and Design, Helsinki, gave a short paper entitled Angels talking back and new organs of perception: Art making and intentionality in nature experience. His abstract is as follows:
This article is about the role of artistic process in connecting to the natural environment. In my research I have explored what participants experienced and learned when they engage in different types of arts-based environmental education (AEE) practices that I have facilitated. The premise of AEE is that efforts to learn about our (natural) environment can effectively take their starting point in an artistic activity, usually conducted in groups.
I found that, on the whole, two major orientations can be distinguished. One starts from the point of aesthetic sensibility: the tuning in with the senses, or with “a new organ of perception” (Goethe), in order to perceive “the more than human” with fresh new eyes. This tradition can be traced back to (but is by no means limited) to the Romantic Movement. Art in this context may help to amplify the receptivity of the senses and strengthen a sense of connectedness to the natural world.
The other major orientation in seeking bridges between nature and art builds on a view of artistic process as leading to unexpected outcomes and “emergent properties.” The fundamentally singular experience of making a work of art may evoke an aesthetic object that becomes a “self-sufficient, spiritually breathing subject” (Kadinsky). The art work can be spontaneously generative and multi-layered with meanings, some of which even ambiguous and paradoxical. But perhaps more importantly: it can catch the participant of an AEE activity by surprise; overwhelm him or her as “coming from behind one’s back.” The element of improvisation, of taking in the new and unanticipated and accommodating for it, is the core quality here.
These two orientations, when practiced as part of AEE, have implications to how we relate to nature through art. In the closing of this article I address the question whether it is possible to bridge the dualism between the two orientations.