Art shows us ourselves outside of language. It taps into a collective store of beliefs, politics, and myths to offer a familiar yet bewildering blend of contemporary society. Each generation has its own cache of landscape art, and these landscapes carry the myths of the day,
shifting meaning and emphasis with the passing generations. In the case of contemporary landscapes, we can access the collective and glimpse the current human condition. Landscape art presents its audience with the tensions and strains of contemporary culture. This is not necessarily isolated to one specific cultural problem. Rather, it is the reverberations of many problems re-presented as a singular piece.
In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes offers a eulogy to his mother while simultaneously exploring the nature of photographs. He explores his memories of her through photographs, commenting that some photographs could be examined objectively while others contained a
jolting essence distinctly her own. He coins three terms to deal with this chasm. Studium is used to describe an image whose meaning can be summed up in a glance. By contrast, punctum describes a moment, or detail, that can recall a vivid experience not easily defined in words. It is
what the photograph is about beyond the ostensible subject. For Barthes, this represented something quite personal, and not necessarily accessible by the audience at large. And, finally, noema refers to the roles of emotion and subjectivity in the experience of looking at
If we broaden these terms a bit, we have a working vocabulary for discussing contemporary landscapes. The terms need to be able to refer to all artworks, and the punctum and noema need to be seen not as a personal but as a collective experience. The noema can embody a collective energy, and the punctum can deal with moments of perception, exploring visual signifiers and how they feed into a collective identity; a mark can embody the essence of a subject without ever describing the subject specifically. For example, a tree can be more tree- like in a few expressive strokes than it ever can through careful rendering. How we identify the tree within the strokes and, further, attach a mood or experience to this collection of marks
defines current culture.
*excerpt from my written thesis at SVA in 2011. You can read it in its entirety here.