Art and Geography

Harriet Hawkins

in Geography

ISBN: 9780199874002
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Art and Geography

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It was the 18th- and 19th-century landscape paintings of J. M. W. Turner and John Constable that first drew geographers’ attention to art practices in any significant way. The mode of analysis was iconography, focusing on the imagery and symbolism of the works, while the thematic focus of analysis was often landscape, coupled with questions of national identity and empire. Since the early 1990s, however, geographers have taken strength and lessons from these early studies to broaden considerably their engagements with art, such that we see four key features: first, a move to include contemporary artworks, in addition to modern and historical works, among the sources geographers study; second, the embrace of a wider variety of artistic media beyond painting practices to include everything from performance art to installation and sculpture; third, an opening out of concerns beyond the thematic frame of landscape to include themes and approaches such as the body, geopolitics, or home; and fourth, a shift in modes of engagement that sees geographers taking up a range of creative practices, working collaboratively as curators and artists, as well as using existing artworks as an empirical source. The combined effects of the cultural turn within geography and the spatial turn within the arts and humanities have seen rapprochement between these two fields for several decades now—such that geographers have recognized the value of cultural sources and cultural modes of analysis within their studies of social life and the environment, while scholars and practitioners of arts and humanities have been working with the analytic potential of place and a range of spatial vocabularies and concepts. In recent years, such “turns,” perhaps as explored in mapping, exploration, and fieldwork, better understood as “returns,” are not just discursive and conceptual but are also increasingly practice based and methodological. As a result, geographers are taking up artistic methods, either alone or in collaboration, and artists are continuing to work with practices of mapping, exploration, or fieldwork. Furthermore, there is a conceptual shift in the discussion, in line with broader trends across geography, such that we find a movement to combine the politics of representation and cultural productions understood as “texts” with questions of bodily experience, practice, and materiality. In the context of geography and art discussions, these broader disciplinary concerns align around an attentiveness not just to artistic products but to the practices and materialities of art making, as well as the audiences’ embodied experiences of the finished artworks. This is to reinforce a longer-term appreciation of the need to engage with geographical studies of art that explore the production, consumption, and circulation of these works.

Article.  11484 words. 

Subjects: Earth Sciences and Geography ; Human Geography

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