Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Expeditionary Art: An Appraisal [*]

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Expeditionary Art: An Appraisal [*]

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. When drawing and painting were the only ways to create visual documentation of new discoveries, artists played a central role in geographical exploration. The legacy of expeditionary art offers opportunities for building stronger linkages between art and geography. A framework is laid out for classifying expeditionary art, describing how it can be appraised as pictorial information. The work of two artists of the nineteenth century, Richard Kern and Frederick Catherwood, exemplifies key aspects of expeditionary art. Keywords: Frederick Catherwood, expeditionary art, Richard Kern, pictorial information.

Potentiai for constructing enduring cross-disciplinary links between art and geography has long been recognized (Younghusband 1920; Wright 1947; Stoddart 1986). With the rise over the past thirty years of a strongly humanistic strand within geography, landscape studies has emerged as a distinctive field. But despite an ever-broadening recognition that space and place are important to artists and geographers alike, strong ties are not readily accepted (Howard 1991; Johnston 1997). A "largely uncharted interdisciplinary gulf" between artists and geographers that Hugh Prince identified still sees relatively little bridging, if recent assessments are to be trusted (Prince 1984; Bunkse 1990; Matless 1996; Wallach 1997). There remains a need to understand why art and geography are still so separated and to establish ways that new contacts can be made; hence this article.

Linkages between art and geography remain weak for two main reasons. First, discussion often centers on fine art "celebrities," albeit across a wide range of individuals, from Joseph Wright (Fraser 1988), to John Constable (Daniels 1991), to Adolf Wolfli (Park, Simpson-Housley, and de Man 1994). Any comprehensive survey of geographical approaches to landscape discusses aesthetic angles but in doing so is likely to veer quickly toward celebrities as touchstones (Muir 1999). Their canonical art (referred to hereafter as "academy art") is often seductive in its technical excellence and its fluent manipulation of media, but where it draws us into the cognitive thicket of the artistic mind and gaze it also withdraws us from assessment of a picture as a document embodying geographical value. The importance of "content" in academy art is regularly subsumed to the importance of "technique." Images, through the ages, have been created to fit current aesthetic taste, and artists often mustered--and still muster--a code of visual language developed within a rarefied arena populated largely by peers and patrons. Since its inception, modernism has shaped, and has been shaped by, art that is particularly expressive and/or abstract, involved with a transmutation of line, texture, and color. Modernism often embodies a personal relationship with a motif, perhaps to the point of obsession. In sum, much academy art is constructed around views from nowhere, placing it at odds with the traditional vantage points of geographers, which involve views from a succession of somewheres" (Tuan 1990, 442).

Rather than looking to academy artists for insights, geographers may find it much more productive to look to the work of expeditionary artists. Specifically, expeditionary art is art for survey and surveillance. It provides information rather than catering to aesthetic taste, the distinctions being well made by Bernard Smith in his study of images returned from the Cook voyages and by Barbara Maria Stafford in her broader examination of the genre (Stafford 1984; Smith 1992). Far from being grounded in the terrain of personal imagination or emotional angst (Park, Simpson-Housley, and de Man 1994), expeditionary art is mimetic, perspectival, referential, and place specific. Geographers will find that much of the work has a familiar feel, because place-specific forms of visual depiction are those with which geographers have been most involved (MacEachren and others 1992). …

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