Over the years, we've spent a lot of time as botanical artists discussing what constitutes botanical art. We all appear to agree that the artwork must contain the essential scientific information of the specimen. Images must be consistently lit, regardless off whether from left or right. Aesthetics are considered only after the anatomy of the specimen portrayed is mastered.
Let's take a look at how that understanding has grown in contemporary botanical art creation, using the works in the 2013 Society of Botanical Artists exhibition in England. For this post, we'll limit ourselves to composition and lighting.
Traditional botanical art composition requires that each important anatomical aspect of the plant be represented. The painting below demonstrates that aspect, but it also shows contemporary full field design, and slightly stylized color. How does this fit the tradition of botanical art?
Grapes for Charity © Mary Tarraway SBA
One of the tenets of botanical art has been that paintings shall not contain man-made artifacts. However, this image below shows a braided bow. It's accurate, in that it shows the most common presentation of ornamental corn in today's use. Is it still botanical art?
Ornamental Corn © Valerie Dugan SBA
The composition below does not contain all aspects of the flowers portrayed - leaves are missing, stems are not shown, flowers are not portrayed as they would necessarily appear if gathered into a bouquet. There's also a complete black background, and the light source isn't entirely understood. Can it be botanical art?
Twilight Hellebores © Sarah Caswell SBA
What do these paintings have that makes them compelling? In the first case, amazing design. In the second, a nod to contemporary presentation of colorful corn, that shows how the specimen most commonly fits into our lives. And in the third case, passionate presentation vignetted on a full black background, establishes great motion and drama in the painting.
Are these composition and design elements appropriate for a botanical art show? The august SBA feels they are. Do you?
One of the burning questions in contemporary art is how do we become recognized as an art genre, as well as an art in service to science. Perhaps these able tweakings of the concepts of botanical art in its traditions point the way to the future. The more the genre is viewed as art as well as illustration, the more opportunities we have to present the essential place plants hold in our world, whether scientific, decorative, cultural or passionate.
Click here to go to the SBA website and see more of their 2013 exhibition. It appears that the discussion of the future of botanical art is being addressed by our friends across the pond also.
Click here to Send your thoughts and comments about where the future of botanical art might lie to this blog. We look forward to hearing from you.