Throughout time, artists have used nature as a muse or motivation for creating art, both as a topic of their work and also in the use of natural products to create art. Henry Matisse said, “An artist must possess nature. He must identify himself with her rhythm, which will enable him to express himself in his own language”. Art and Nature combine to promote a sense of connection with our humanity.
Nature can provide endless forms of artistic inspiration, making it a critical theme in artwork. Landscape painting gained prominence in the late 18th century with the rise of Romanticism. It became a method of self-expression with the emotions of the painter, their appreciation and bond with nature demonstrated in the painting.
The sea, birds and other animals, trees and plants, all provide inspiring topics for art creation, whether they are depicted literally in a painting, or whether the use of natural patterns and colors are implemented into a work of art in a creative, barely recognizable way. Artists can internalize nature and use it in their individual expressions of art.
The Jan Van Eyck Academy in the Netherlands has opened a lab for artists to do nature research. They created a facility to support woodworking, printmaking, photography, video, and metalwork, while allowing artists to explore their work and their relationship with nature. This gives artists a chance to consider nature in various ways, to begin to bridge a gap between humankind, nature, and art. Artists are finding that facilities within nature provide them with a sense of inspiration through well-being, enhancing their creative abilities.
There has been some research done on the importance of art and nature to the personal well-being of people. Thomson et al. (2020) found that creative green prescription programs which combine arts and nature based activities can significantly impact the psychosocial well-being of mental health. They recommend that museums with parks and gardens blend programs to incorporate nature and well-being. Kang et al. (2021) found that nature based group art therapy positively affects siblings of children with disabilities. This type of art therapy increased their resistance to disease and their self-esteem, while alleviating stress.
Artists can use nature to express themselves. Often, art incorporates the natural mediums of wood, clay, water, and graphite. Making art from nature may involve utilizing other elements of nature such as leaves, sticks, stones, bones, water, etc. in a creative way, to make a new art object. The resulting artwork makes a statement about both nature and humanity’s relationship to nature, as artists turn to the essence of the earth itself as a material for art-making.
Dating back to the Stone Age, prehistoric people used organic and mineral based pigments such as metal oxides and iron to make marks on cave walls. Now of course, these pigments are commercially available in tubes, jars and bottles. The same can be said for paintbrushes, whose main elements were initially natural hairs from horses, camels, pigs, and squirrels for bristles. Wood or bone was used for handles. Today’s art supplies are a combination of natural and synthetic materials that mimic nature.
The integration of art and nature has evolved over time, all the while, keeping us connected to the earth, whether we enjoy nature through the artwork of others, participate in artwork surrounded by or incorporated into nature, or whether we use nature in the creation of art itself. Art and nature together provide an artistic vision that pushes the boundaries of what art is and how we perceive ourselves in the natural world.