Milton Avery, Dancing Trees, 1960. Oil on canvas, 52 x 66 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection © 2015 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Marketing Intern Olivia Bensimon spent some time with Milton Avery’s Dancing Trees (1960), on view in Seeing Nature, recording her thoughts and reactions in a freewriting exercise:
Blue triangles of different size superposed on a turquoise and blue-grey background. Cones with legs and spots. Milton Avery’s abstract painting evokes something more like a dream than a landscape. The swaying of these cones is discernible; the circular brushstrokes of the cones in the foreground in comparison to the straight strokes of the background show movement. Candy corn from the Halloween trick or treats of my childhood comes to mind. The kernels float around and echo the movement of the wind. Shrubs begin to appear, branches and leaves sprout out from what once was a two dimensional triangle. The wind picks up as the cones are completely covered in a homogeneous surface of leaves. The wind whistles through the leaves; the cones still swaying with the wind, now swaying with the whistling. Finally, trees appear instead of cones, dancing against the wind on a flat landscape of turquoise grass.
The landscapes on view in Seeing Nature can inspire any number of different emotions and reactions. Does one of the works from the exhibition stand out to you? Take a stab at your own freewriting exercise in response! Let your pen take the lead and send us the result at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to win a Phillips gift bag. We’ll feature our favorite submissions here on the blog.
Olivia Bensimon, Marketing & Communications Intern
In preparation for his Curator’s Perspective tonight, Seeing Nature Curator Klaus Ottmann shares some thoughts on the exhibition.
Installation view of Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection. Arthur Wesley Dow, “Cosmic Cities, Grand Canyon of Arizona” (1912). At right, Paul Cézanne, “Mont Sainte-Victoire” (1888–90)
But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination
Nature is Imagination itself.
As a man is so he sees.
— William Blake (1799)
What is the power of landscapes? What is it that makes the vision of artists applied to canvas able to connect our individual lives with the cosmos itself?
Innate to any landscape are the emotions we feel in its presence. These moods and feelings are not merely in our brains, our heart, and our senses; they are also inherent to the landscapes themselves. For the ancient Greeks, each landscape evoked particular divinities. For the 17th-century English travelers crossing the Alps to Italy, it was the feeling of the Sublime, a “delight that is consistent with reason yet mingled with Horrors, and sometimes almost with despair.”
As William Blake noted in 1799, there is a special connection between Nature and the Imagination. For this exhibition, the Allen Institute for Brain Science has been investigating this special link: “People talk about how our brains are wired to see landscapes, to look at landscapes and to see what’s going on in them—so there’s something about landscapes that seems almost universally attractive,” Paul Allen has said. “It’s a way of looking outward.”