One essential thing about art
What is your definition of art – in one short answer?
This time I’m gonna be talking about flourishing gardens and the essence of art. I’ve chosen two distantly related topics for three apparently unrelated reasons:
The question of "what is art and its essence" is a meaningful inquiry. Throughout human history, and in particular, since the early modern period, countless discussions have been dedicated to this topic. We still have no unique answer to it. And we will never have. That’s right: this question is evergreen, and there will always be a myriad of answers to it.
I love to talk about anti-seasonal topics, like astonishingly green gardens, when the weather turns nasty in this part of Europe (I live in Aachen, in the three-border region of Germany-Belgium-Netherlands, and it’s pretty dark, cold, and wet around here these days).
Giardino di Ninfa versus Parco Reale di Caserta
There’s a remarkable BBC documentary with Monty Don about the Italian gardens, which I’ve watched so many times and never got bored with. In one of these documentaries, I recently rediscovered the Garden of Ninfa from Cisterna di Latina (southeast of Rome) and the concept behind this magic corner of paradise on earth.
The Garden of Ninfa was created in the 1920's in the English garden style by a descendant of a princely Italian family, Gelasio Caetani, as a mosaic of various plant species that he brought to Italy from his many travels abroad. And as a colour tribute to Nature.
This mysterious, life-vibrating work of landscape gardening leaves so much room for interpretation and for our imagination to unfold. The garden of Ninfa is a gate into an unknown realm of possibilities. The gardener works here with Nature’s infinite potential, versatile character, and power of transformation. And he lets himself be led. By Nature and its creative energy.
No force or personal ego is imposed on the landscape. The work is intentional but not strong-willed. It is the art of a true master: an inspired choice of plants matched with discrete touches of creativity in perfect harmony. A living painting. You can find here so much love and care for Nature‘s wonders! And so much freedom and inspiration for your art!
The Garden of Ninfa is a beautiful metaphor for the essence of art. The contrast with the perfectly manicured gardens of the Caserta Palace (about 40 km north of Napoli) is striking.
The Parco Reale of the Royal Palace of Caserta is part of a project by the Italian architect Luigi Vanvitelli, which was initiated in 1753 in the style of André Le Nôtre's Gardens of Versailles.
In Caserta, we see Nature forced into a narrative discourse of political power and supremacy. The discourse is megalomaniac and imposing. There are no possibilities, no risks, no hazards, no manifold ways of seeing, no surprise, but a unique perspective, a single point of view, and one ideal angle. A perfectly centred composition.
In this place, there’s no room for transformation in the true sense of the word. Man doesn’t work here hand in hand with Nature, but he trims and forces it into a well-thought-through grid.
Ninfa and Caserta are prime examples of two fundamentally different paradigms. They splendidly express two diametrically opposed worlds. And they’re like contrasting symptoms of the current times ...
The Garden of Ninfa or the Parco Reale di Caserta: which one would you choose?
The essence of art
Art is like the Garden of Ninfa. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Change.
Transformation is about seeing differently, through and beyond, as well as about creating mindfully. It is about process and infinite possibilities. Because transformation is per se unpredictable.
Art works with the banal. With what it is. But it doesn’t stop there. Art changes what it is into what it can be. It alters the common visual perception and goes beyond conventionality. Art turns familiar and ordinary things into unique, unfamiliar, and extraordinary worlds!
With a touch of a magic wand, art transforms immediate reality into something else, subtle, and boundless. You see, transformation is about possibilities and unpredictability, not about one single, clear, foreseeable solution. It is about manifold options, not about one big, fat, ultimate answer.
Art doesn’t imitate or copy anything, but it thrives on otherness, on the very essence of what it means to be different and unique in its own right. Art changes everything into something different.
Furthermore, art is not about seeking but about finding possibilities. It is about re-creating the world anew each time. Art raises questions. And it always leaves enough room for interpretation. Therefore, every artwork has a unique flavour, something mysterious and subtle, which eludes concrete words and definitions.
“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential for the eye whichever young and ardent sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!” (Søren Kirkegaard)
Like I wrote in a previous blog post: there’s no single, absolute perspective on the things we see. There are only multiple points of view. David Hockney took this idea further – he made it literally "visible" for us. Think of his picture of Pearblossom Highway in California (from 1986) – a collage of 850 photographs all stuck together, and a moving picture, too. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, read my blog post entitled: "Seeing like an artist: the perception of space in visual arts".
You can use transformation – the very essence of art – to experience unique moments of creative energy when things reveal themselves and can start anew.
Be a finder rather than a seeker. Find possibilities instead of clear-cut solutions.
See you in Ninfa!
Thank you for reading till the end.
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Recognise your pointlessness, and keep creating!
From Germany with love,