Citation:
Shearer, R.R. 1992. Beyond romanticism: The significance of plants as form in the history of art. In: D. Relf (ed.). The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-Being and Social Development: A National Symposium. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Abstract:
Beginning with Leonardo da Vinci, Ms. Shearer explores several of art history's most important artists and their inspiration from plants. For painters like Mondrian, "the Father of Abstraction", plant forms represented more than a 19th century sentimentality. They were objects of "universality" from which natures most fundamental principles could be deciphered. Mondrian's breakthrough work in geometric abstraction, Shearer argues, occurred because of his study of plants, as opposed to the human figure which has dominated art history.

Shearer also discusses her observation of an almost complete absence of plants in the history of sculpture. Up until the late 20th century, 3-dimensional plants could only be found in the decorative or architectural arts, not rendered in sculpture as serious subject matter.

Shearer highlights the important influence of society's changing views of nature in art history. At the beginning of this century when modern art was born, nature was viewed as random and capricious, something to be subdued by man for the sake of greater technology and this view was expressed in man-made (Euclidean) geometric paintings. Ironically, the recent discovery of fractal geometry has demonstrated that universality does exist in nature, that seemingly unrelated diverse natural forms, i.e. plants, clouds, mountains, snowflakes, reveal hidden, similar patterns. Shearer speculates on the potential importance of fractal geometry in the future of art.

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