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Mark Curtis Mark Curtis | 13:53 UK time, Wednesday, 31 August 2011

As an art teacher, I love the opportunity given in this site to get students to consider how tradition and narrow preset views are constantly challenged in the arts - introducing the concept that punk rock wasn't the first time it happened.

A common complaint from my art students will be: 'Why do I need to look at all this old stuff?'. Most assessment criteria reflect the fact that understanding context is highly valued in arts practices. But establishing buy-in from students is essential.

I often start with a topic or theme that explores one of the big categories that I refer to as meta-narratives. 'Landscape' is an example of one of these narratives.

I start by asking students to look at definitions of 'Landscape'. Before doing so I give all students an A6 scrap of paper and give them a few seconds to draw a landscape. Most students have a paradigm of landscape, which is well set: orientated as a conventional landscape, normally natural, with a range of hills or mountains, a river or lake, and almost certainly a tree or two.


A drawing of a landscape.


It's at this point that I show them the work of the traditional landscape artists and show the connection with their paradigm. The learning for the students is that they are already conditioned.


This allows us to benchmark a current understanding and begin to explore the notion of 'Landscape' as a concept, asking questions like, 'Why did we arrive at similar outcomes?' and 'Does our preset or paradigm stem from our cultural or even geographic location'?

(Incidentally I live and work in Somerset. There are very few mountains here, yet very often mountains, or at least rolling hills, make an appearance. If given too much time, the creative students will already consider bucking the stereotype and produce cities and Manhattan-style skylines. There are not many tower blocks in Somerset either...)

There are other 'typical' landscapes it's worth looking at, at this point, that students may recognize from postcards or the occasional chocolate box. Paintings such as the Constable below, or the photographs of Ansel Adams, can lead to discussions about how the reference to the work of others is already informing their thinking. You can suggest that by consciously selecting the reference material, a student can take greater control of their outcomes.

Challenge your students to use the Your Paintings collection to find examples of a landscape that does so much more than our often narrow preset views. They can explore the work, and consider what else was going on in the world at the time they were created. Some of the paintings tagged with landscapes are here, and I've picked out a few that challenge the common paradigm.




As well as examples of the paintings on this site, I also like to use Japanese woodcut landscape and photography from the new topologists such as Lewis Baltz or Robert Adams; explore cross over from landscape photography to paint and print through Ed Ruscha; and even jump back to the Russian revolution and look at Alexander Rodchenko and the rejection of tradition.

(Editor's note: Let us know if you come across any particularly interesting examples of 'Landscapes' in the Your Paintings collection, that could or have provoked debate in the classroom)


(Copyright information:
Landscape No.3 © the artist
The Outgoing Tide © the artist's estate
Red Landscape © estate of Graham Sutherland
Landscape with Birds © the estate of Patrick Caulfield/DACS 2005)


  • Comment number 1.

    A thought provoking article, thank you, even though I am not an art teacher, merely an artist living in Cyprus and about to embark on a project on the theme of the landscape here. It will be interesting to study some of the artists mentioned. I followed up on the Rodchenko link immediately and think that his point of view could also provoke a very interesting philosophical debate in the classroom.


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