Art
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Narrative in Art: The Changing Countryside

Jörg-Müller The Changing Countryside - May 1953

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize and appreciate the power of art, especially in its ability to deeply resonate with people.  Several years ago, a colleague of mine put together a fascinating presentation about the environmental themes of art commissioned during the Industrial Revolution. During this period of immense change and upheaval, several artists sought to contrast industrialization and urbanization with romantic pastoral images of sky, rural life, and nature. Each of the paintings in her presentation were affective and provocative, each conveying a richly detailed but wordless story.

Recently, I came across a series of pictures that reminded me of that presentation. They originate from a book called The Changing Countryside by Jörg Müller. In it there are seven murals which detail a steady progression of natural and human induced changes of a landscape over time. To me, they worked together to tell a story rich in environmental themes, ideas, and connections. Click on the pictures if you want a more detailed look:

Jörg-Müller The Changing Countryside - May 1953Jörg-Müller The Changing Countryside - August 1956Jörg-Müller The Changing Countryside - January 1958Jörg-Müller The Changing Countryside - January 1963Jörg-Müller The Changing Countryside - April 1956Jörg-Müller The Changing Countryside - July 1969Jörg-Müller The Changing Countryside - October 1972Image from Jörg Müller’s Facebook page at the time of this article’s publication.

Instead of writing about what I think, I thought it would be more appropriate to let the art speak for itself. I have come up with a few questions of my own that may prove to be interesting for discussion.

Questions:

  1. What kind of story do these pictures tell?
  2. What environmental ideas, themes and connections do you see?
  3. What element(s) throughout each of the pictures do you feel most attached to?
  4. Which frame are you personally MOST comfortable living in or living with?
  5. What should the next picture in the sequence look like?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. Thanks for reading, and have a happy 42nd Earth Day.

Related Ekostories:

Next up: Finding wisdom in the garden.

Reference

 Müller, Jörg. The Changing Countryside. Heryin Books Inc, 2006.

8 Comments

  1. The problem is the change is slow and over generations. If the story’s are not told – whether through word of mouth, writing, or as you show, painting – of what things once were, we don’t know how to properly orient ourselves and have visions of what could be again. I think too many people just see things the way they are and assume it’s always “been like this” and change is impossible. These paintings help to see the big story, much like the inter-generational stories of writers like Wendell Berry. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Doug,

      Your comment reminds me of the notion of a shifting baseline. Each generation thinks their landscape is the one that has always been, not recognizing the slow and gradual changes that have occurred over time. I wonder how much of the landscape has changed prior to the first painting.

      I think you’re also right about the importance of stories. We need enduring ones that can bridge generations, stories of history and myth that speak to the human condition and can make people think about themselves and their place in the world beyond what they’re accustomed to, so that they’re able to articulate a vision of a different future.

    • Thanks. I think it really is a great and accessible resource for exploring the relationships and connections we all have to place, culture, and nature.

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  4. Wong says

    I remember seeing these paintings in an article that appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine in India, back in 1973.
    The story has really never changed. Instead of Europe then, its Asia now.

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