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J.M.W. Turner and the Landscape Revolution: A Personal View

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It has been recognised at least since Plato that the 'objective' environment is not directly accessible to us. Instead, its signals are screened both by the peculiarities of the human visual apparatus, and by attitudes and perceptions, some of which are learned from cultural training and from individual experiences. Of the many influences embedded within culture, that of landscape art has been at times very powerful. The interpretations of nature by landscape artists were of unequalled importance in Western (i.e. European-cum-North American) societies from the late 18th to the late 19th Century. Before this relatively short period, the canons of landscape appreciation came from literature rather than from art, and from the late 19th Century onwards photographic expertise has progressively ousted art in our perceptions. The 19th Century view of the Grand Canyon was doubtless tempered by the photographic records of the expeditions of J.W. Powell and the Kolb brothers, but the vision itself, as appreciated by millions who never saw the Canyon, derived from the romantic paintings of Thomas Moran. It is clear that our present day conception of landscape has a different origin, a flavour mostly drawn from multitudes of colour photographs in magazines and travel brochures, a flavour which might be summarised as 'National Geographic'.
Discussion Paper no. 12
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Cunningham, F.F. "J.M.W. Turner and the Landscape Revolution: A Personal View." Department of Geography Discussion Paper no. 12. Simon Fraser University. 1981.
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Copyright is held by the author(s) and the Dept. of Geography, Simon Fraser University.
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