Become an Artist/Naturalist
For many centuries there have been people who combined the roles of artist and naturalist. The image above is from Chauvet Cave, painted some 33,000 years ago. On the one hand, such people have been lovers and students of nature, (naturalists). On the other hand, they have been able to celebrate and share their love and knowledge of nature through making art in a great variety of ways and forms.
Artist/Naturalists are important people. Through their paintings and writing and sculptures and songs, they communicate powerfully about the natural world and make it come alive for people who are less in touch with nature. They communicate their joy in the beauty and wonder of Earth.
Some Artist/Naturalists are known mostly for their study of nature, some are known primarily for their art. Some, like Alexander von Humboldt, were great explorers. Some, like Johann von Goethe and Mary Oliver, are great poets. John James Audubon combined his study of birds with painting them. Others, such as Beatrix Potter and Debra Fraser, have combined their love of nature and their art in such wonderful children’s books as “Peter Rabbit” and “On the Day You Were Born.”
You can’t go to college and get a degree to become an Artist/Naturalist. Many recent Artist/Naturalists, such as Georgia O’Keefe and Andy Goldsworthy, are professional artists who have made Nature their primary subject. Artist/Naturalists such as biologist Ann Labastille and anthropologist Loren Eisley became scientists first, then discovered their art. Another path was taken by people like Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Margaret Murie, whose passion for Nature gave their writings great power.
Many Artist/Naturalists are now relatively unknown, largely forgotten even if they were famous during their lifetimes. This has happened to large numbers of women. One incredible woman, Maria Sibylla Merian, is in the process of rediscovery right now. Many remain unsung, such as the women who painted the butterflies into Audubon’s bird paintings.
Probably most Artist/Naturalists who have ever lived are unknown. A great many people sketch and paint Nature daily, and many keep daily journals of their observations. These are people who are nourished by the process of carefully Observing and then Recording what they observed, and turning it into art.
During our time toigether, we want you, and your students, as appropriate, to become Artist/Naturalists. We want you to become students of nature and make art about nature at the same time. The great emotional power of making art will combine with the study of ecology to make your learning powerful and lasting.
Artist/Naturalists tend to keep journals. Most Artist/Naturalists began keeping journals of nature observations by the time they were ten years old.
The Journal of Everyday Earth
is both Project and Process.
Journal as Project
This Journal is not just for writing. It will contain pictures (drawings, paintings) as well as words, and perhaps photographs as well. It is likely to contain some natural materials preserved as scans —a feather, a pressed flower, some seeds.
Journals should be organized by date. While some Journal entries will be the result of assignments, we hope that most will be the result of regular Noticing and Noting. If you give yourself and students a regular daily time to record in their Journals it will help enormously.
For Ecology of Creativity you will post an entry at least two times a module, or two times a week.
Why the word Everyday?
The seeds of both art-making and scientific discovery are usually very brief experiences—a minute or less— that may not seem “important” by ordinary standards. They are often “everyday”, but not routine experiences. They are very important moments in our lives. “Everyday” Earth suggests the importance of including everyday things—the look on a squirrel's scolding face or the lash of its tail, the way a leaf waltzed when it fell, the way a fly washed its hands, a shade of pink in sky —no big things, just all the little things that do feed our spirits—the fragrance of air after rain, the crackling of thin ice on puddles, the way leaves melt into snow because of differential heating.
The limitations of the Internet obviously affect the Journal. You are limited to what can be digitized, but there are ways.
A Journal Entry for the Web is a kind of rendered moment, a rendered gift:
• rendered with words: description, poem, narrative complete with sensory details
• rendered visually: scanned or photographed drawings, sketches, calligraphy, collage, or actual scanned or photographed objects. See
this page of scans:
A scanned assemblage of a few objects picked up on the forest floor in autumn. All were collected from the same square foot.
Garden leavings: a grab-bag of material from the autumn flower garden, scanned and rearranged a couple of times. Ephemeral art, captured in electrons for a time. With colors by Mother Nature, it's hard to go wrong.
Journal as Process
The Process of keeping such a Journal is more important than its contents.
Look at some goals of Morning Earth:
1) To help students create positive and personal affiliations with Nature
2) To give students knowledge about how life on Earth works (ecology)
3) To give students skills in the arts of self-expression
4) To empower teachers to develop their own ecology-based art activities.
The Journal process is crucial to Goal One, affiliation. In our scheduled and fragmented days, the Journal is an excellent way to slow down, reflect and take stock, and remind yourself what “everyday” little experiences with Earth have fed your spirit recently.
The Journal process is also crucial to Goal Three, art skills. Skills require practice. Journal entries are practice.Goal Four is about empowering teachers. We urge you to take every opportunity during this course to make art. The quickest path to your own empowerment is to begin to perceive yourself as a person who is comfortable making art.
We want you to develop the Journal-Habit—regular Noticing and Noting of natural details that enhance your days.Give yourself a daily gift of a few minutes of observation or gardening, etc. that will generate the moments that create entries.Touch tree barks, earth--don't try to do it all with your eyes. Get your knees muddy--it's OK.
• Journal entries always begin with the date (and maybe the place).
• It is important to realize that a first Journal entry is usually not a finished piece of art—a few words rather than a finished poem, a quick sketch rather than a finished drawing or painting.
• A Journal entry is a way of saying “Open Sesame” to memories. Without a way of recovering memories, a lot of our special moments are lost, especially the ‘everyday’ ones. Experiences, like poems or songs, do not have to be long to be strong.
• Many Artist/Naturalists of the past have made small sketches both in words and drawn lines, then glued them into their journals. A close-up photo can replace glue.
• Similarly, many Artist/Naturalists have used a Journal entry as a jumping off point for a finished drawing, painting or poem. Include both in your Journal.
• You may do some art-making activities where the art is ephemeral and process– more than product-centered—for example, a dance or skit done in collaboration with others.
These activities have a place in the Journal. They can be:
• photographed, and a photo glued into the Journal
• sketched or drawn
• described in words
• a skit or drama may be entered as a written script.
What do you make entries ABOUT?
• Moments which please—Moments which capture interest
• Moments of beauty—the color of a wet pebble or the blue of Autumn sky, those eyes
• Moments of Noticing Intricate design—like a spider web, an acorn’s “cap”, the fleeing pattern of a snowflake
• Smile Moments—a bluejay’s or squirrel’s “attitude”; warm sun on your face on a winter’s day, a jay chasing a crow, a redwing chasing a jay
• Moments of Good Surprise—the touch of a warm hand on your cheek, the bubble between a baby's lips, a cat's tongue, a friend's smile.
• Moments of Curiosity and Wonder—when a sense of awe is triggered by a brief natural experience. This morning’s sunrise, trees through mist.
• Moments of Learning--when you see and realize some of the harsh truths of nature, and later see how they mesh with larger necessities. Such learning is a joy delayed.
• Caution: We are natural beings (although we do forget). Do not hesitate to include humans in your journal.
Life does an odd thing to us. The longer we live, the less we see. A baby notices everything, and finds everything interesting. When we get a bit older, and our days become routine—the same stuff day-after-day—our eyes get dulled by Experience and Time. We grow habit filters to keep us protected. To be an Artist, or to be a Scientist, you need to drop the dullness from your eyes, and allow the world to be fascinating to you again, as it was when you were little. Learn to remove your eyescales at will. To be an Artist or a Scientist, you must learn to observe carefully. Observation is a skill. Keeping the Journal will help you develop that skill.
Observation is Active Seeing— eyes wide open and all five senses alert.
Observation has two parts, Noticing and Noting.
Noticing is the Seeing and Sensing part; Noting is recording what you saw in your Journal, or on a scrap of paper in your pocket, or in your memory. If you store it in memory, be sure to take it out of storage soon and enter it in your Journal.