the natural world

Representing nature today is not easy for the artist, who sees nature being recreated everyday by the likes of geneticists, computer programmers, and real estate developers..

--Jeffrey Deitch, Artificial Nature (1990)

Human beings are both a part of and apart from Nature.

The history of human civilization is in large part the story of our conflicted relationship to nature. Ironically, we are "of" nature, but we work hard to tame, analyze, and "domesticate" the natural world. Starting with the first revolution--the Agricultural Revolution some 10,000 years ago--humankind moved from a largely nomadic "hunter-gatherer" existence to an economy built upon the control of land and water, the cultivation of crops, and the domestication of animals. In some respects, the more "civilized" humankind has become, the more disconnected we are from the natural world. While contemporary humans are more sensitized to the impact of industrial society on the natural environment and have developed technologies for countering certain trends, the pace of destruction is accelerating. Evidence includes the degradation of our air and water, the deteriorating conditions of urban life, and the loss of critical habitat worldwide.

Artists have always responded to the natural world through their artwork. Careful observation and representation of the natural world by artists has increased our sensitivity to the colors, forms, and patterns that surround us--and by extension, the structure of nature itself. Artists have produced environmental and ecologically-based art works that have raised consciousness about the natural world and mitigated environmental problems on a practical level. Through conceptual, representational, and performative means, artists have helped humankind in understanding their relationship to the natural world.

Inquiry Questions

1) How do you define the "natural world"? Do you consider yourself part of the natural world?

3) How have artists represented or utilized the natural world in the past?

3) How have artists interacted with other disciplines to understand the natural world?

4) What would be some ways of exloring the theme of the natural world in your own artwork?


1. Color Perception and Expression (2D Studio Fundamentals, UNIT VI: Local and Reflected Color)

2. Time in Nature (2D Studio Fundamentals, UNIT IX: Time, Change, and Motion)

3. Monument to a Belief System (3D Studio Fundamentals, UNIT V: Scale and Context)

4. Natural Forces (3D Studio Fundamentals, UNIT VII: Dynamics)


Mel Chin, Andy Goldsworthy, Helen and Newton Harrison, Laurie Lundquist, Frederick Law Olmsted, Buster Simpson, Robert Smithson, Mierle Uekeles


"Art & Ecology: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Curriculum," Don Krug, ed., ArtsEdNet, Getty Foundation.

Deitch, J. (1990). Artificial nature (catalog for the exhibition) Artificial Nature. Athens: Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art.

Lacy, S. (1995). Mapping the terrain: New genre public art. Seattle: Bay Press.

Matilsky, B. (1992). Fragile ecologies. New York: Rizzoli.