It’s often said that a rainy day is a museum day, and it’s certainly true that wet weather, or a particularly hot day, might well encourage art-lovers to see that exhibition they had been meaning to visit, or while away a spare hour or two in a favorite gallery where they can combine pleasure with an escape from the elements.
But there is a deeper and more direct role that weather plays in art, the creation of it, and even our experience of it. That is, simply, that it is reflected in many works of art as a vital element of the atmosphere and setting of the scene.
Anyone at all familiar with the works of Impressionist period will remember how many Impressionist artists incorporated the feeling of the weather and the time of day into their works. Of course, some of their subjects were directly seasonal – haystacks, poppy fields and so on – but part of the way that the impression of that season is conveyed so powerfully is through the sense of light and warmth, or coolness and stillness, that is a product of the atmosphere of the air, the color of the sky, and other aspects of the weather.
You might assume that the various elements of the weather have been a part of painting throughout its history, perhaps even matching the subjects of works in the ways we might expect – sun and blue skies for happy events, storms and gray clouds for dramatic or depressing stories. After all, many of the arts, from poetry to drama to films have employed nature in this way. ‘Pathetic fallacy’, as it is called, is frequently used to heighten and reflect the emotion of the moment, as if the world itself is involved in the human tale.
It turns out to be more complicated than this, though. A recent article by Jonathan Jones discusses what you might think of as one of the most ordinary and unremarkable elements of the weather – rain. Not the torrential downpours or floods that might have interested artists in themselves as a topic, but that kind of calm, sometimes irritating drizzle that you would take into account when you were preparing to go out, or those spring and summer showers which take you by surprise in the park.
It seems this kind of rain, which is such a recurring feature of our day to day lives for much of the year, is rarely represented in artworks before the nineteenth century – though it does have a place in Dutch art, which so often focuses on the beauty in the everyday. Landscapes before the nineteenth century, though, were usually depicted as either sunny – perhaps as a setting for religious figures – or dramatically stormy. Only with Turner in this relatively modern time did ordinary rain become accepted as part of the scenery, perhaps out of the desire to capture the varying moods and atmospheres we experience in life, not merely portray the dramatic moments in it or use aspects of nature which added to the story of the subjects. It then was taken up and incorporated into the Impressionist movement, where rain became often soft as well as sometimes chilly, sensual as well as damp.
There is an interesting story to be told of snow, as well. Snow was largely ignored in artwork (except where it played a role in a religious scene, such as a traditional Nativity painting) until the mid-sixteenth century, when Europe experienced what has become known as the Little Ice Age – a time of unusual cold, with severe winters and, of course, plenty of snow. At the beginning this was reflected in scenes of life from the time – notably in the work of Bruegel – and we can see that although the extreme weather conditions had an impact on life, it was a source of pleasure as well as difficulty. Children play games in and with it, as their elders skate and explore.
Yet in the next cold spell, which came in the eighteenth century, snow was greeted with very different feelings. It was perceived as something primarily dangerous and inimical, something which crushed children and buried travelers. This resentment towards an element only partially understood and difficult to control resurfaced as technology advanced and communication, travel and so on increased in speed and efficiency – yet could still be entirely derailed by a chance snowstorm. Today this view competes with children’s joy at a snow day, and the peace and tranquility we associate with the soft fall that brings us a ‘white Christmas” and the clean, pure appearance it gives to the landscape.
Naturally, our reactions to and feelings about the various aspects of the weather have an impact on the way we portray them, as individual artists and as a society. It is interesting to trace these trends through time and reflect on how we, ourselves, perceive the weather in artwork.
How do you incorporate the seasons and elements like rain and snow into your work? Let us know in the comments!
- 11/22/2013 - 12/13/2013
Divine Stardom: Lady Gioconda / a Solo Exhibition
- 11/22/2013 - 12/13/2013
Exhibition: Persistence of Form; Unbound Perspectives
- 12/17/2013 - 01/09/2014
Exhibition: The Odyssey Within; Sensorial Realms; Pathway to Abstraction
- 12/19/2013 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM
Reception: The Odyssey Within; Sensorial Realms; Pathway to Abstraction
- 11/22/2013 - 12/13/2013