One of my favorite artists is Jim Woodring who designed several of jazz great Bill Frisell’s album covers. In an interview with American comic book editor, publisher and critic Gary Groth, Woodring is asked about the world he created for one of his characters named Frank. Groth observed that in the created world of Frank, the comic seems less involved with nature than in organic material objects and that Woodring makes everything appear to be living even if it is inanimate or any abstract object.
Woodring agreed and said, “I guess that’s true. I much prefer a landscape with something man-made in it. It adds the dimension of art or artifice and I like that.”
The treatment of nature in prose, cartoons, poetry and in songs has been of interest to people for centuries. Individual views of nature are fascinating, whether they never change or whether our insights as to our relationships to nature change over time. When time is a factor, we wonder whether it is the young cartoonist or poet that treats nature in one way and then returns years later to the same subject, only to find that they treat nature differently given time.
How do you view nature? Is nature just to be reined in and serve man, in what some would call a man versus nature take on the world? Or, is your view a unity between man and nature, where nature is not just for our use, although it is available to us, but not to a point that man’s self-serving is not reined in so as not to destroy the landscape and our lives? Maybe on some days there is a romantic view of nature? Maybe on other days nature is viewed by you only to accurately portray what is there? Maybe on other days your view of nature is imbued with a particular mood and could provide you a series of ways of seeing a field on any given day? One day the field is beautiful with the shining sun hitting the grasses and soil in a way that gives you a great feeling, but on the very next day, the same field looked at more closely is a costly gopher-reduced lumpy terrain topped with manure and either a source or sink for carbon dioxide.
Yet, if you read Martin Prechtel’s “The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic” which explores the Mayan culture’s symbiotic relationship with nature, you’ll see a complex web of exposures between cultures. The book explores various ways that nature plays a role in the lives of Mayan traditionalists and those who believed that it was their duty to educate these “poor indigenous people” away from their spiritual and sustenance dependence on nature and seeds with persecution and destruction. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, but Prechtel explores how nature unleashes on those who live according to ancestral knowledge, how they recover and still live in unity with nature, and those who live in opposition with wild nature sold on the concepts of converting and monetizing for the sake of exponential growth.
Those who oppose nature unleash on nature as punishment toward those among Mayan traditionalists who revered nature for its bounty and beauty despite their respect for its ability to challenge mankind. The persecution of the Mayan traditionalists came out of spite and jealousy and to control them and force them to adhere to a different set of rules, values and principles. They aimed to show these local people the error in their way by destroying that which they loved, because the loyalty that the traditionalists showed to nature needed to be redirected and reined in.
Today, we still hear those who zealously advocate for accumulation condemn all people who wish to protect nature and develop less of a man versus nature attitude toward nature and more of a unity between man and nature attitude for the common good. And yet, I can’t blame the religions, I blame the interpretations and derivatives of ethics, because most of the faiths and the scriptures actually teach about the interdependence of everything big and small and a respect toward animals and the natural world. There are tons of wonderful essays exploring the topic from various religious scholars that are worth reading.
Despite the Protestant ethic deteriorating as a result of environmental concerns, some Protestants have noted that the ethical emphasis on material capital and exclusion of natural capital from moral concern needs revision. It is as if every generation still has its town criers heralding explosive growth at the expense of everything including traditions, culture, lifestyles and respect for diversity and ancestral knowledge. These criers are still willing to use force on people to forget the ways of the world that respect both livelihoods and nature just to impose familiar systems of control to rein “them” in. Those they want to rein in are educated, not ignorant, people who are relying on science and tradition to protect nature while also understanding the everyday concerns that many face.
However, for every recommendation those people who need to be “reined in” make to throwaway societies, it is met with backlashes by those who may not appreciate the view that we are part of a cycle of life that involves everything we do in unity with nature. Why is it that those who abuse their privileges so desperately refuse to open their minds to build a bridge with those who bring attention to dire issues? I have a few thoughts about this. One is that it’s never-ending sometimes and doesn’t consider timing, a person’s needs for rest, happiness, emotional ties to habits and their intended goals. It can also make people feel powerless when they are invested in the life they live and don’t know how they could make adjustments, especially since people fear change. Sometimes, I believe that it may be that well-meaning activists don’t find ways to relate with others rather than erupt with scrutiny and seem to show that they themselves do not want to live their lives, not just a cause, to experience and develop their own talents even as concerned citizens. A music teacher’s passion is teaching music, yet they can find ways to live a well-rounded life that may include spirituality, sports, hobbies, and responsible societal practices without making it the center piece of their life. Understanding that there are a number of lifestyles in this world that warrant finding a common ground in any exchange means not reducing ourselves to a battle of wills. What do I do about it, is a real question and requires actionable solutions. (i.e. reduce, reuse, recycle. Or, carbonfund.org)
Our lives do not deserve piecemeal misrepresentations of all the things that affect us and all of the personal growth we experience over time. Otherwise, we risk being one-sided and unwilling to appreciate when an artist like Woodring can explore the beauty in a landscape with something man-made in it. Or extending this a bit further, we can’t believe that someone doesn’t conform to protecting nature. If we experience the great outdoors and nature’s wild places differently than those places that we set aside for our industrial needs, then we can still manage to explore the possibility that we’ve experienced voluntary segregation into comfort zone groups. Some groups promote an ethic pursuing wealth as an end in itself which allows for exploitation of both humans and nature in the interests of increasing economic wealth. Other groups are demonstrating their right to question this ethic to adopt ways of living that emphasize being informed and act accordingly.
I love an artist who celebrates a landscape that adds dimensions of art and artifice, because we don’t have to make a choice between man or nature with our back against the wall or forced into a corner.