Provocative statement from In Ruins by Christopher Woodward:
“This Picturesque way of seeing is arguably England’s greatest contribution to European visual culture.”
Woodwards book is a meditation on various ruins, and at this point in the book he is trying to argue for a shift in their meaning during the beginning of the 18th century. He argues that the notion of the picturesque – that nature could be seen as a picture and that people could then organize natural settings to mimic pictures as deriving from the changed english attitude toward gothic, (as opposed to classical) ruins. He then suggests that the picturesque’s influence can be felt in things like Olmsted’s designs for urban parks and Marie Antoinette’s “english gardens” at Versailles. Of equal importance would be the ways in which the American West came to be both depicted and colonized through painting and photography. The ruin in the landscape is a hallmark of Romantic art, of course, and Woodward is saying that such a subject would not have been thought picture-worthy in itself before the period he is describing. I feel most provoked by the notion that this is an english invention, since I note that the 17th century marks a period of increasing contact and fascination with the far east, and the ideas os landscape as site for meditation seem to me to be similar to attitudes in Chinese art. The post colonialist in me notes that the period under examination is one of increasing imperial activity, and that it is easier to claim owner ship of a patch of land when you see it first as a picture, not as a location where someone else may already live and might have different ideas about what is to go on there.