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Image of November Sunlight print
November Sunlight
Albert Barkin
Lithograph on medium weight cream-colored paper
Drawings of classical statues adorned with flowers
Drawings of classical statues adorned with flowers
Sarah Ducharme '21
From my AP Studio Art portfolio

The Sublime in the Mundane: Human Encroachment in the Natural Landscape

February 14, 2020

Guest blogger Sarah Ducharme is former Cunningham Study Center student assistant, East Asian Studies major, and member of the class of 2021.

As I become increasingly aware of anthropogenic environmental destruction, I find myself drawn to nature. It is in nature, in the intertwining body of roots and branches, air and light, that I find comfort amid the stresses of human life. Nature is pure. It is awe-inspiring. It is sublime. And yet in nature, one cannot escape the encroachment of human life. As the mundane features of human existence creep in the natural world I find the essence of our coexistence — a beautiful, desolate relationship of push and pull.

The intricacies at play in human-environmental relationships have been of interest for me for years. I explored the topic in my AP Studio Art portfolio in 2017 through the growth of plants on statues (man-made structures in the image of man), a project dear to my heart.

Since investing myself in these depictions of the human-environmental condition, I have been drawn to the subtle evidence of human encroachment in the natural world. It never fails to move me. The feeling is almost beyond words. All at once I feel melancholy, appreciation, respect, disgust, guilt and reconciliation. It is art in itself. It is the sublime in the mundane.          

Yet taking such a grand notion as the sublime and translating it to the minute forms of human-environmental interaction is a stretch. Still, I find no better way to describe the contemplative power of this dynamic relationship. In these glimpses of companionship and conflict I feel a sense of insignificance standing on the edge of something grand. An understanding awaits, but only through an exploration of these visceral responses.

As an assistant in the Cunningham Study Center I spend my days encountering pieces of immense beauty. The first to move me with a depiction of a human-environmental coexistence was Albert Barkin’s November Sunlight.

I was so struck by the piece that I abandoned my work for several minutes in appreciation and contemplation. Since then, I have come across countless moving pieces, though I doubt this response was intentional on the part of the artists. Upon learning that I had the opportunity to write a series of blog posts for the Cunningham Center as part of my job I was thrilled to embark on this exploration.

In addition to Barkin’s piece, I will be examining the depiction of human-environmental relations in three other pieces ranging from the early nineteenth century to the latter half of the twentieth century. Although I recognize that this depiction of the human-environmental relationship is likely unintentional, I intend to explore how each piece evokes this sublime response in me, and how they play into the relative aesthetics of natural and human landscapes

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