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Nature's gifts.

Whatever part of nature we touch, it, in return, touches us. Artworks dealing with nature give us a deeper sense of the ecology of the planet and are perhaps best understood in terms of human experience. That's because they reflect attitudes toward the natural world and humankind's place in it. Artful acts of creation become records of the linkages between self and the material world. However, the recording of the material world is never wholly objective or neutral. Nor is it without contrasting interpretations.

The contradictions that exist in comparative views of nature are reflected in my early experiences of growing up on a farm in rural southern Indiana. The rolling hills and existing soil conditions in our county made the farmland very susceptible to erosion. Farming with horse drawn implements did not help the situation. Although the wash-outs were a hardship for my dad, for a small boy, the deep gullies became great hiding places for a Wild West shootout. In my make believe world, the untended fields could be remote and inaccessible, savage and dangerous, or wild and untamed. As I grew older, the horses were replaced with tractors, and with improved farming practices, we gradually began to transform the land. The rugged terrain that conjured up wilderness fantasies became cultivated fields of gentle contours--inviting and workable, productive and bountiful, controlled and patterned.

Like my youthful perceptions of farmland, artists' interpretations of nature can range from uncorrupted wilderness to cultivated formality, from untamed to tamed. Whether portraying a place, weather, seasons, light, animals, flowers, or food, artists respond to the contrary qualities of the natural world and make conscious choices that transform meaning and the way we interpret their portraits of nature. Likewise, when selecting natural materials for their craft, weavers, potters, and woodworkers consider the contrasting qualities of nature's raw products and make thoughtful decisions that impact on the final form and function.

The artful work of a landscape painter or weaver, in a way, heals. It joins us with nature. To join, the etymological root for art, is an act of healing. My father's artful work as a farmer was, in a way, a healing of the earth.

Perhaps we might look at the artistic behaviors described in this issue's lessons as acts of healing. Rather than looking at these lessons as projects to do, think of them as artful processes to engage in. Rather than look at the results of these lessons as commodities or products to make, think of them as records of accomplishment or meaningful messages. As we consider incorporating these lessons into our own curriculum, we might ask how these experiences with nature can give students a deeper sense of the ecology of the planet. How can they help students better understand the natural world and their place in it? How can they be connected to their own life experiences? How can we build on the strong tradition of objective observation?

Whatever we touch in nature touches us. That's nature's gift.

Eldon Katter, Editor
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Title Annotation:Editor's Comments
Author:Katter, Eldon
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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