Wednesday, June 05, 2013

What is Contemporary Botanical Art?


The title of this post is a question that I have been asked on many occasions by Art Collectors who want to understand what is occurring in the world of Contemporary Botanical Art.  The main concern they have is definition, and so inquire if Botanical Art is Botanical Illustration, or if it is Fine Art. For an art collector there are always variable reasons for building a collection and a serious collector understandably needs to have clarification.

My answer to this inquiry is a personal opinion based on observation:

The definition is simple and plain - Contemporary Botanical Art is an umbrella term under which many types of artists working with plant imagery co-exist. Broadly speaking, this group of artists range from the highly technical Botanical Illustrators (including Digital Botanical Illustrators), the Naturalistic Flower Painters (I place myself here), and, the free style painters and sculptors who focus on botanical subjects. Across the board it includes artists who work with all techniques and all mediums, including print making and photography. I say this without bias, with no sub textural belief that one is better than the other. I define Contemporary Botanical Art in this way because the over riding interest of all participating artists is a concern for the plant kingdom, which is a reason to reflect upon unity of purpose.

Not all Botanical Art is concerned with maintaining a link to science, as there are elements connected to decoration as one polarity, and to philosophy at the other extreme. The art of the Flower Painter can be partly traced back to the Medieval painted borders of the Books of Hours. The Introduction to my book Painting Flowers in Watercolour - a naturalistic approach describes this history. Flower Painting (which generally includes fruit and foliage) can be linked to an intensely meditative or philosophical work process. Flower Painting is sometimes inaccurately referred to as being simply 'aesthetic' in its approach. It is worth remembering that Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy in its own right, and any connection to Flower Painting should perhaps not be used superficially.

The title Contemporary Botanical Art belongs to everyone involved, simply because it has a place within the bigger picture of applied and fine arts. However, for some reason some practitioners of Botanical Illustration seem to want to separate it from the bigger picture of Art. This may be due to an historical need to have a separation from that bigger picture.  No one has ownership over the banner of Botanical Art at the expense of another artist's endeavour. I view the banner as an art history term, and consequently I describe this aspect of my work as Naturalistic Flower Painting in much the same way that a Portrait Painter may describe themselves as such. 

How artists in this genre entitle themselves is a key to understanding who they are and what they do specifically. It would be interesting to know statistically how many artists become full time professionals after training, and what percentage pursue the subject as a serious amateur. One thing is for sure, anyone who describes their work as Botanical Art should do so as a considered response and not as a prescribed definition. I do not advocate absorbing and reflecting any definition made by teachers, historians, or art critics. What is appropriate is for artists to have enough clarity of intent to define themselves in an appropriate way that is real and true for them.

My work as an ordinary Flower Painter is inspired by a love of the plant kingdom. The expression of observable truth is to me the end game of beauty. I also read meaning within nature, and the work reflects this. When all is said and done, the delight in witnessing artistic interpretations of the plant world blossom and grow is something that lives way above and beyond all definitions. The work comes from a place that is a marriage of both truth and mystery, much like nature itself.