Nature's Four Seasons as Inspiration

Article excerpt

...I used to harbor the thought that one year of Nature chronology would finish the job-would rob succeeding years of new chronologies. Even tho I walk forever on the same paths & in the woods &fields, and even note the same phenomena, each year will bring a new chronology, for my view of life is ever changing. The thought is still more ludicrous when I think of the meagerness of my observations.

-Charles Burchfield, Jan. 9th, 1915, Poetry of Place

The selection from Charles Burchfield's journals underscores how nature has continually served as inspiration for artists throughout the centuries. Nature embodies our ecstasies as we witness the new life of spring and the intensity of summer. It captures our mortality as the bright colors of fall signal the coming dormancy and repose of winter. Nature itself is a theme that has been depicted throughout time and across cultures and media. Regardless of which time in history or which culture views nature, it embodies the cycles of life and hints of resurrections, both physical and psychic.

Each of the four works of art selected for this resource, Charles Burchfield's October Wind and Sunlight in the Woods, Utagawa Hiroshige's Fujikawa (from Tokaido Road), Childe Hassam's Bridge At Old Lyme, and Georgia O'Keeffe's Red Barn, Lake George, New York, tells the story of the events or nuances of a season that made an impression on the artist. As we examine each composition, we see a different aspect of nature. Burchfield's nature is a world filled with teeming spirits; a vital life-force permeates each tree and leaf blown by the autumn wind. In contrast, Hiroshige's serene world exudes a powerful sense of calmness as the snowflakes gently blanket a Japanese village and countryside. Hassam's light palette captures the shimmering quality of light and the vibrancy of color felt on a lovely spring day. O'Keeffe's contained forms communicate the quiet power and the solidity of nature as she depicts the clear, blue sky of summer.

It is our objective to offer high school art teachers a unit of four lessons that can guide students to appreciate and create their own artworks that depict their personal views of nature and, specifically, the four seasons. These activities are designed to encourage students' observational skills and to go beyond depicting objective details in their work in order to bring to their art personal symbols and expressions.


CHARLES BURCHFIELD American (1893-1967)

October Wind and Sunlight in the Woods, 1962 Watercolor, The Georgia Museum of Art


Burchfield was born in Ashtabula, Ohio. His early paintings depict small-town New England scenes where houses and storefronts seem to possess human faces and personalities. From 1943 on, he concentrated on watercolor landscapes and transferred his anthropomorphic expression to the scenes of nature.

As an art student, Burchfield was influenced by his readings in philosophy, especially transcendentalism, a philosophy that states:

Nature is formed and informed by spirit; that a leaf or pebble, mountain or star, is a symbol of a greater spiritual reality, both beyond and within; that God not only created nature but is in nature. (Cohn, 1985)

His transformation of the landscape is an outgrowth of the promise of the new world that shaped the concept of nature within the United States from the early l9th century onward. Not only did the wilderness in its vastness and mystery hold God's spirit, but America and the "Divine" landscape were intrinsically linked. Burchfield was also rooted in the Romantic tradition that sought to express feelings of awe and reverence for nature and sensitivity to its various changes and nuances (Cohn, 1985).

As a student, Burchfield read Hinduism, Buddhism, and Nordic and Aryan myths. From this study came the impulse to depict sounds, to anthropomorphize the landscape, and to convey a land brimming with insect, bird, and spiritual life. …