John Busby taught for thirty years at the Edinburgh School of Art so I was not surprised to find this handout amongst his papers.
Created for his third year Painting and Drawing students it tries to get them to see beyond the merely visual, to really look, with understanding, at the processes that form the landscape: time-wrought changes in a landscape that can be seen through the millennia of erosion as well as the minutes of moving cloud shadows.
So how can an artist respond to landscape? Hopefully by going beyond the purely representational and by teasing out elements of meaning to them that will spark a response in us, the viewers. That is what John Busby did with his landscape compositions, whether the microscopic Landscape in a Granite Rock, the small scale Rock Pool Variations or the soaring birds’ view landscapes.
In Landmarks and Sea Wings he wrote:
“To look at this landscape [the Yorkshire Dales] is to sense the infinitely slow pulse of time – sea creatures turned into limestone mountains; reduced by ice to ‘U’ shaped valleys and flat-topped hills which hold the changing clouds above them in a close embrace. Time is the underlying component of landscape. Standing on ancient rocks, a skylark sings above my head, it’s wings beating many times a second: the grasses at my feet nod in the invisible wind, marking the irregular tempo of the present moment.”
For those unused to deciphering John’s handwriting, here is a translation!
It has taken millions of years to form what you see, grow into it in thought and feeling gradually.
Look – listen – sense what is behind and above you, and what happened (even this morning) before you arrived.
Try to find a landscape you can return to many times and ‘live in’ when you are not painting. Walk over it many times.
Follow a landscape through a complete day.
Who travels through it and why? People, animals, birds, aircraft?
How do shadows move during the day?
Are the colours of the morning the same as those of afternoon?
How does the tide of visibility ebb and flow with the weather?
Does the landscape induce changes in the weather?
How does a cloud change shape as it crosses your view?
Is the real strength of the landscape in the skyline as Landscape Architects are taught? Where do YOU find it?
Are there similarities of form between intimate details of the landscape and its mountains? Does lichen ever look like clouds?
Fierce natural selection has enabled plants, animals and birds to live where you find them. Do trees grow well where you put them in your pictures, and does your work show the tension of your own artistic selection?
After a week, what questions or answers are uppermost in your mind about your own experience?