Reflective Journal: Periodic Summary, Week 16 – Week 31

The theme of the current stage is exploring the connection between landscape, culture and identity. With a specific interest in Penwith Peninsula, I have been working on Cornish landscapes to discuss whether there is a context in which outside visitors can be recognised “capable of picturing the true essence of the landscape that only indigenous people would understand”. What is the true essence of the Cornish landscape? How culture and identity were established upon this landscape? Is it the gift of nature, or the invention of human? 

A. Inspiration

a.1 The Original Assumption

At the very beginning of the unit, I intended to find something whose pattern was “the pattern of the development of culture”. Two proposals were written, The Anxiety of Painting and The Anxiety of Advancement, targeting the role visual art plays in reflecting historical context. I believed in every decisive moment of technological or social advancement; contemporaneous paintings would reveal anxiety over the unstoppable impact that the traditional lifestyle is facing. It may have the potential to help the field to identify the key moment when artists should “carry the proper social responsibility”, which is to picture possible dilemmas that the society will face. 

These two proposals and the process of editing can be found via:

a.2 Development

The theme was narrowed down to a particular movement in the history of painting, the Hudson River School. The movement celebrated the establishment of industrial life on a promising land whose territory was vast and materials were abundant. Also, it demonstrated a desire and the nostalgia to traditional European life in idyllic sceneries. The development of this trend also witnessed the awakening of the national identity of The United States. Soon its reflection on the contemporaneous national spirit became symbolic, especially during the transition from the first generation Hudson River School artists to the second generation.

In tutorials with Victoria Ahrens and Nicola Rae, I was helped to identify a keyword in the Hudson River School movement. “Idealisation”, referring to the subjective process of its artists. It inspired me to think that landscapes/culture/identities that demonstrated by artwork were manipulated. This idea transited the focus point of this project to “how artists have idealised landscapes, and what is its impact”.

The partial proposal can be found below:

In what way do Painters of the Hudson River School challenge the Depiction of the “American Dream” Landscapes and how can these ideas of Landscape Painting be Translated into a Contemporary Experience of Cornish Landscape? 

Subject Area, Aim and Objectives

The historical context of the Hudson River School stimulated its painters to challenge the idea of landscape painting within the emerging federal state of the United States. The artists of the Hudson River School, at its very beginning, focused on documenting the transformation of a soulful wildness to an urbanised wealthy life alongside the cultivated meadow. This awakening of European Colonialism was highlighted by the second generation of its artists. The Hudson River School epitomised the transition of the American Dream from philosophical conservatism to pragmatic capitalism, and finally to its imperialistic Neo and Post-colonialism. American culture was developed in a relatively isolated environment, yet how did it avoid involution and ultimately achieve its hegemony? The evolution of the idea within landscape paintings of the Hudson River School share a similarity with the pride of recognition of Cornish identity. How does the idealism of Hudson River School landscape painting connect to the Celtic tradition and Anglo-Saxon culture? How can a contemporary experience of immersing in Cornish landscapes be translated from ideas referred to as “American Dreams” produced by the Hudson River School? This project proposes to visualise a Cornwall that is abundant with cultural heritage, yet positioned controversially through the display of an idealised Cornish lifestyle, while trying to maintain its voice concerning contemporary issues. 

Historical Context

Thomas Cole journeyed to America in 1825, and immediately initiated a new movement that majorly focused on landscapes in the basin of the Hudson River. While borrowing a substantial influence from Romanticism, the movement considered Nature adheres to the way it was described by Thorns and Walden (year), while considerably reflecting on Roger Scruton’s essay Cultural Conservatism (2013). The developed part of the North was a promised land for immigrants upon which an industrial civilisation was aimed to be established. While demonstrating an image where pragmatic effort would promisingly lead to an idealised life of bourgeoisies, the national identity of the States gradually awakened, matured and evolved. The country’s brutal westward expansion, and wars raged both in North America and overseas determined the nation’s transformation into an empire (dates). An adventurous conquering appeared among the second generation of Hudson River Painters, reflecting this development of national value, and also celebrated the vastness of its territory and the variety of its materials. 

In recent years, the region of Cornwall’s developing identity of independence has come to academic attention, as many of its people’s preference is being recognised as Cornish instead of British. The conservation regarding local culture in the region, holds a similarity to Hudson River School painters’s encouragement of national identity and idealised American landscapes. Cornwall has been seeking a recognisable voice of its own. Its resisting attitude towards English identity has demonstrated a region which has been struggling in anxiety over uncertainties in a contemporary landscape.

Methodology

  1. Researching the development of the idea of the “American Dream” in the Hudson River School paintings, and comparing it to a Cornish recognition of its landscape and identity through its art history. Investigating how images of a particular landscape can be used to define identity – local or national – will be analysed with the reference to the Hudson River School.
  2. Studying the fundamental theories that cultivated the environment in which the Hudson River School was generated, especially the Cultural Conservatism and Romanticism, will be analysed in a wider context.
  3. The Cornish identity will be investigated through its history of art regarding relevant movements and societies, for example, Newlyn School and St Ives School, leading up to contemporary practices and debates.
  4. Reflecting critically on the question and challenging the topic with methods including but not limited to painting, drawing and writing. 
  5. Field trips to Cornwall that include interviewing and communicating with relevant art professionals to question and investigate Cornish identity through art. Analysing the difference in recognising Cornish landscapes by local residents and visitors. 

Final Outcomes

  1. A thesis discussing the proposed question and critically reflecting on relevant aspects. It will introduce a more detailed investigation of how Cornish people value their landscapes and conclude how contemporary artists represent Cornish landscapes.
  2. A series of physical works critically reflecting on the topic. It will emphasise combining personal experiences in Cornwall with the understanding of Hudson River School paintings’ essence of idealisation.

Bibliography

Scruton R, 197x, Culture Conservatism.

Ferber, L. (2009). The Hudson River School

Howat, J. (1987). American paradise

Barrell, J. (2009). The dark side of the landscape.

Rosenblum, R. and Janson, H. (2004). Art of the nineteenth century: Paintings and Sculptures.

Novak, B. (2007). American painting of the nineteenth century.

Broder, P. (1980). Great paintings of the Old American West.

a.3 Final Direction

Tutor Mark Fairninton suggested that this topic should be converted to explore its essential idea: “how images of the landscape can be used to define specific identities”. After investigations and evaluations, the research in Hudson River School was considered “appropriate for an example”, and its method could be converted as a part of the methodology. 

I have a history of interest in the Cornish landscape and how Cornish people recognise their identity. Thus, I have chosen the Penwith Peninsula to be the object of study in this research. This proposal can be found below:

Hold onto the Land: How the image of a particular landscape can be used to define an identity —— with a Specific Interest in Cornwall

Subject Area, Aim and Objectives. 

The practice-based research aims to explore how cultural expressions of land and landscape are used to define cultural identity and self-determination, focusing on Cornwall as a primary example. The investigation will focus on how image has been tooled to establish and develop Cornish identity since the pre-colonial era to contemporary times. A comparison between Cornwall and other Celtic regions in the United Kingdom with be conducted. Assuming there are general patterns for cultures to be cultivated and developed, resulting ultimately in autonomy or independence, the proposal intends to identify such patterns by analysing Cornwall as a region that have been substantially influenced by its post-colonial neighbour. The research could contribute to the discussion regarding identity lost in a situation where a culture of a minority is placed in a fast-paced, global society; it will picture the anxious dilemma which an under-developed region has been facing when seeking both economic growth and its idiosyncratic voice. Potentially, the project could challenge how UK regions like Cornwall recognise their identities in the post-Brexit age.

History Context

In The Dark Side of Landscape: the Rural Poor in English painting 1730 – 1840, John Barrel argues that idyllic landscape paintings of artists like Constable were projecting the idealised orderly system of their clients. The perspective is referable for understanding the initial phase of Cornish art. 

In St. Ives Art Pre-1890: The Dawn of the Colony, David Tovey pointed out that Cornwall was little known due to geographical limitations (Tovey, 2008), towns were “discovered” by touring painters. From his email to me, Tovey argued that J.M.W. Turner, Joseph Farington and William Daniell’s journies to Penwith, and the engravings produced after their trips introduced the peninsula to the wider public (Fig. 1). He wrote: “There are very few indigenous Cornish artists prior to the 1930s. They can be counted on little more than one hand”. He also indicated that stereotypical Cornish characters and the region’s pre-industrial lifestyle were massively promoted in late 19th Century paintings. For examples, View of St. Ives, 1887 by Helene Schjerfbeck (Fig. 2) and The Fisherman, 1888, by Andres Zorn (Fig. 3) promoted St. Ives internationally. These pictorial impressions shaped the way that the public reviewed Cornwall and kept attracting visitors even until the last day of Julius Olsson (Val Baker, 1959). 

In 1940s, artists like Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson fled to St. Ives due to the bombing in London. Their significant contribution to the flourishing of art in Cornwall l marked them as the greatest of Cornish artists. Before them, there were Christoper Wood and Alfred Wallis, who was from Cornwall originally. They formed one of the most important movement in the 20th century British art which was  labelled St. Ives school. It is safe to argue that Cornwall’s attractiveness to artists was established by their up-country touring predecessors. Their pursuits of the idealisation of Cornish sceneries ultimately supported this remote region in becoming an art colony and encouraged the development of indigenous artists like Peter Lanyon to reflect on Cornish landscape. In The Art of Cornwall (BBC 4, 2015), Dr James Fox argues that Peter Lanyon devoted a considerable proportion of his career to exploring landscapes that only Cornish people understand. This transformation of perspective marked a growth in Cornish people’s explorations of their own identity – a healthy and flourishing environment which started to see local artists depict their own culture. 

Contemporary Context

Many artists are engaging in the idea of the loss of regional identity. An experimental film by Mark Jenkin, The Essential Cornishman (2016) has been described as an image about the connections between local fishers and the landscape, which discusses the touristic impact on this traditional industry (Moseley, 2019). In 2019, his movie Bait premiered. It powerfully pictures the county’s uncertain future in a rapidly modernising society and was successful in bringing this problem to public attention (Kermode, 2019).

A landscape artist, Kurt Jackson, has been celebrating the distinctiveness that has been defined by the natural wealth of the region(Jackson, 2019), reminding the viewer of the essence within the Cornish landscape. Andy Harper, whose paintings draw upon vegetal and natural forms, also contributed many possibilities to Cornish art.

Discussions regarding cultural identity, landscape and the impact of post-colonialism have been unignorable in other regions of the UK as well. In Wales, artist Iwan Bala described the concept of Welsh landscape as “romanticised, painted and tamed by touring artists”, and “being colonised by art” (Bala, 2005). His opinion was highly similar to my theory and is considerably referable to this proposal. Robert C. Morgan argues that “Culture is not made through consensus or imposition. It is made through ideas that are strongly felt, undeniable feelings were one acknowledges the course of history in relation to the present.” (Robert, C, 1998). Michael F. Brown suggests that “Culture was an abstraction distilled from behaviour and shared understandings. It served as a shorthand way to talk about the habits and attitudes that give each society a distinctive signature”, a contemporaneous statement argues (Brown, 2004). 

Elsewhere, Still (The) Barbarians, curated by Koyo Kouoh (2016, Fig 4), for EVA International Biennale, Limerick in April 2016. The symposium investigate the post-colonial status of Ireland. In Scotland, artists such as Ross Sinclair in works such as Real Life Rocky Mountain (1996) (Fig. 5), discuss the idealised Scottish identity and landscape (Ross Sinclair, n. d.). Exhibition Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland, responded to the awakening of national identity after the Scottish referendum.

Theoretical Context

The importance of visitors is significant to the Cornish economy. Tourism occupies £1.8 billion of the total amount of £9 billion in Cornwall’s annual economy (Vergnault, 2018). Statistics provided by Visit Britain shows St. Ives has an average holiday spent of £91 million from 2016 to 2018 – and this was by British residents only. The movie industry expanded screen tourism’s value to £60m in 2019 (Trewhela, 2019). Landscape is therefore still central to the region’s appeal and a powerful driver of its economy.

In an interview, Malcolm Bell stated that immigrants often choose to move to Cornwall due to their fondness of the region; however, conversely, a considerable amount of locals may take the county’s heritage as granted (Leitch, 2017). Recently, Cornwall has been demonstrating its regional isolationism. A considerable amount of opinion believes immigrants turn indigenous residents into minorities, which raises the concern of losing Cornish identity (Fleet, 2008). New immigrants and seasonal tourism massively impacts on the local concern for their community. English regional policy prioritises economic growth whilst ignoring the uniqueness of Cornish culture. Plus the distinctive pattern of population relocation in Cornwall, such political flaws further disadvantage the county’s delimma (Sandford, 2006).

This evidence reveals Cultural Conservatism: an overwhelming anxiety over the threat of the disappearance of, or massive changes to a culture(Scruton, 2017). The accumulation of negativities eventually caused a severe radicalness. In 2017, the Metro reported that Rick Stein’s Porthleven restaurant had been firebombed in a terrorist attack related to radical Cornish nationalism (Fig. 6). In a statement following the attack, the Cornish Republican Army claimed to have 30 volunteers in active service units and said that in the past 50 years, all that had been achieved was “an ethnic cleansing of the people of Kernow” (Mills, 2017).

Methodology  

  1. Researching movements that helped developed regional identities, for example, the Barbizon School, the Hudson River School and the Newlyn School; Compare and investigate how images of a particular landscape can be used to define an identity – local or national.
  2. Studying historical contexts from which those environments were cultivated to support the development of regional movements, with an emphasis on Cultural Conservatism’s preservation of a lifestyle and Romanticism’s discussion about the relationship between human and nature.
  3. The Cornish identity will be investigated through its history of the art regarding relevant movements and societies, from pre-colony era to the highest of Cornish art in the 20th century, leading up to contemporary practices and debates.
  4. Reflecting critically on the question and challenging the topic with methods including but not limited to painting, writing and photography. Painting is proposed to be the primary approach. Landscape and portrait painting will be engaged in order to explore the relationship between carriers of the regional culture and the macroscopical environment. 
  5. Field trips to Cornwall that include interviewing and communicating with relevant art professionals. Question and investigate Cornish identity through art. Analysing the difference in recognising Cornish landscapes by indigenous people and visitors. 
  6. The project will be a practice-based project but consist of a large proportion of sociologic research.

Ethical Dimension of the Research

Some would argue I cannot represent Cornish due to my ethnic origin. However, Cornish field of art has a tradition of being diverse, touring artists who could be considered as visitors pillared its development. Cornwall-based artist Andy Harper stated that residence is not necessarily decisive for being described as a Cornish artistin an interview I conducted with him (Harper, 2020). As a matter of fact, many artists that have relocated in the county are recognised as Cornish due to their contributions to the local culture. Many examples proved this adoption of identity when one’s work can be recognised by the market, the academy and professionals in the field simultaneously.

Final Outcomes

  1. A thesis which discusses the question critically. It will introduce an investigation of how Cornish culture is related to the landscape.
  2. A series of physical works that critically challenge the topic. It will combine an idealised perspective as a visitor who was enchanted by Cornish culture and landscape with a relatively objective angle as an academic outsider. It will be graphics-based, likely series of paintings produced with various materials and techniques. 
  3. A visual carrier on which physical works can be properly displayed while comprehensively explaining the research. It may be a video or a book, with online accessibility.

Reference

1. Barrell, J., 2009. The Dark Side of the Landscape: the Rural Poor in English Painting 1730 – 1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.36, p.144.

2. Tovey, D., 2008. St Ives Art Pre-1890: The Dawn of the Colony. Tewkesbury: Wilson Books, pp.9-11.

3. Val Baker, D., 1959. Britain’s Art Colony By The Sea. London: G. Ronald, pp.47-49.

4. BBC 4, 2005. The Art of Cornwall. [Video] Available at: <https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/01815241?bcast=116068773>  [Accessed 25 March 2020]

5. Jenkin. M., 2016. The Essential Cornishman (Clip). [Online] Video. The United Kingdom: Early Day Films. Available at: <https://vimeo.com/159601579> [Accessed on 26 March 2020]

6. Moseley. R., 2019. Picturing Cornwall: Landscape, Region and the Moving Image. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. pp.196-198.

7. Bait. 2019. [film] Directed by M. Jenkin. United Kingdom: Early Day Films.

8. Kermode, M., 2019. Bait Review – One Of The Defining British Films Of The Decade. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/sep/01/bait-review-mark-jenkin-cornish-fishing-village&gt; [Accessed 25 March 2020].

9. YouTube. 2019. Seasalt Cornwall: Modern Creative Kurt Jackson. [online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_-yWD81MlY&gt; [Accessed 19 March 2020].

10. Bala, I., 2005. Artcornwall. Iwan Bala: Horizon Wales. [Online] artcornwall.org. Available at: <https://www.artcornwall.org/features/Iwan-Bala-Horizon-Wales.htm> [Accessed 8 April 2020]

11. Morgan, R., 1998. The End Of The Art World. New York: Allworth Press co-published with the School of Visual Arts, p.193.

12. Brown, M., 2009. Who Owns Native Culture? Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp.4-5.

13. Nationalgalleries.org, n. d. Ross Sinclair. [Online] Available at: <https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/ross-sinclair> [Accessed 3 April 2020]

14. Harper, A., 2020. Cornish Art and Cornish Identity. [Email]

15. Vergnault, O., 2018. The Real Effect Millions of Tourists Have on Cornwall. [Online] cornwalllive. Available at: <https://www.cornwalllive.com/news/cornwall-news/real-effect-millions-tourists-cornwall-1565889> [Accessed 8 April 2020]

16. Trewhela, L., 2019, Cornwall Could Become A Mini Hollywood If Netflix Has Its Way. [Online] cornwalllive. Available at: <https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=gvfADwAAQBAJ&pg=PT277&lpg=PT277&dq=the+essential+cornishmen&source=bl&ots=R_1XmA9pSx&sig=ACfU3U1WrbxPfzKI45Xwoh9PN7jCgwJhhg&hl=zh-CN&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj95vyCkcHoAhUtWhUIHfx7A4U4ChDoATALegQIBhAB#v=onepage&q=the%20essential%20cornishmen&f=false&gt;, [Accessed 25 March 2020]

17. Leitch, O., 2017. The Cornish Question: Conflicted Means And Uncertain Ends In Cornish Heritage Tourism And Indigenous Identity. M.Phil. in Public History and Cultural Heritage. Department of History, School of History and Humanities, Trinity College Dublin.

18. Fleet, J., 2008. Cornish Identity at Risk: A Rundown on the Present Situation in Cornwall. Europäisches Journal für Minderheitenfragen, 1(4), pp.237-240

19. Sandford, M., 2006. English regionalism through the looking glass: perspectives on the English Question from the North-East and Cornwall. National Identities, [online] 8(1), pp.77-93. Available at: <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/14608940600571347?needAccess=true&gt; [Accessed 4 April 2020].

20. Scruton, R., 2017. Conservatism. London: Profile Books, pp.73-97.

21. Mills, J., 2017. Cornish terror group ‘burned Rick Stein’s restaurant and has first suicide bomber’, Metro, [online] Available at: <https://metro.co.uk/2017/07/09/cornish-terror-group-burned-rick-steins-restaurant-and-has-first-suicide-bomber-6765364/&gt; [Accessed 3 April 2020]. [Accessed 1 April 2020]

*Figures have been omitted in this section

This proposal was not designed for an Unit but a long-term study. The objective of the Unit 2 was to finish a small part of it to test out the overall difficulty as well as to experiment a basic procedure of achieving this project. 

B. Influence

B.1 Schjerfbeck, H., 1887, View of St.Ives

Oil on wood. 33 x 42 cm. Private collection; photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Bilio: Schjerfbeck, H. (1887). View of St.Ives. [Oil on Wood] Helsinki: Private Collection, Finnish National Gallery.

Helene Schjerfbeck is a Finnish painter whose fame is widely celebrated in Scandinavia however less known in Britain. She was one of the earliest visiting artist to the fish town of St. Ives.

Quoting from the website: She was soon writing enthusiastic letters about the Cornish landscape: There are thousands of subjects here I would like to paint: the old fishing village down below, the new artists’ town on the hills above, a couple of sandy beaches, the harbour with the boats, heaths and grassy pastures browned by the hot summer sun. Cornwall is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

A book by Denys Val Baker, which introduced the history of Cornish art around the flourishing of St. Ives painters, Britain’s Art Colony by the Sea(1959), stated that pictorial works are always self-explanatory. Undoubtedly, the image passed an easily-recognisable scene for those who are familiar with St. Ives. The distinctive look of the Island and the composition of the lighthouse, as well as the distant cliffs at the background, indicated the permanency of the landscape. Two figures of youth were placed at the front, assigning energy and idyllic peace to what was described as “poor, struggling lives as fishermen”. The image reminds the audience regarding the true essence of Cornish life, a recognisable character aside from visible landmarks. Perhaps it is the white-grey lime wall of sea viewing cottages, the golden moss on stony roofs that always exposed in the showering rain; a sudden strong wind rolling across the barren shores, or the dazzling sunlight that dyed pale sky with the blue-ish of The Atlantic Ocean . The landscape in the distance has not changed over centuries; however, the golden grassland upon which a long-lost afternoon was archived is now covered by residences and alleys. It is truly remarkable to think of when the audience may realise this painting is hanging in the Finnish National Gallery, on the edge of icebound Baltic Sea; a soulful moment of Cornish life on the opposite reach of European continent is still celebrating the romantic voyage of a young female artist and her beauty-discovering eyes that brought the world this very piece as a European cultural heritage.

B.2 Farington, J., 1813. St Ives. [Engraving]

B.3 Zorn, A., 1888. A Fisherman. [Oil on canvas]

B.4 Joo, M., 2016. Still (The) Barbarians [Image] Available at:<https://www.blainsouthern.com/exhibitons/still-the-barbarians. [Accessed 3 April 2020]

B.5 Art fund, 2019. Real Life Rocky Mountain. [Image] Available at:<https://www.artfund.org/whats-on/exhibitions/2014106128/generation-25-years-of-contemporary-art-in-scotland-national-exhibitons> [Accessed 3 April 2020]

B.6 Olsson, J., 1911, Moonlit Shore, 1911. [Oil on Canvas]

B.7 Kurt Jackson

C. Sketches

C.1 Life-drawings prepared for discussing the role figure plays in landscape painting.

C.2 Sketches prepared to explore establishing a specific tone with figures.

C.3 Idealised/stereotypical Cornish sceneries

C.4 Birdview. Peter Lanyon’s detaching from the landscape, yet still immersing in the landscapes.

C.5 Landscape with figures. A discussion regrading the role human plays in landscape and establishment of landscape.

D. Physical Works

D.1 A Walk to Marazion, Sept 2019.

D.2 An Outlook, Jan 2020.

D.3 Marazion’s Mirror, Feb 2020.

D.4 White on Black, Feb 2020.

D.5 Sunset Safari over St Ives, March 2020.

D.6 Pure Cornish Ingredients, Apr 2020.

D.7 It Rains in Mount’s Bay Today, May 2020

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About cechenpaints

An artist, painter, illustrator based in London.