This post is a thank you and a response to the comment on the previous post, made by Geraldine Mackinnon:
Many thanks for making this point, and perhaps this is an important issue for the younger artists who come to arts education and rightly expect to find some clear and consistent definition of Botanical Art.
The quest to define one’s own art is an individual responsibility. It needs to be carefully thought through and understood, as you are wisely doing. From this point it can grow, develop, and change.
But what responsibilities are there collectively?
The current issue arising is that the various societies and teachers of techniques that are located around the world are not in unison with their definition of the term Botanical Art.
So, just to make this clear, some see Botanical Art as an overall banner under which many types of styles and commitments exist; others see Botanical Art as a specific style of painting in itself.
If no overall agreement is consciously made on this Primary definition, then the result is likely to be that the future of this genre will be compromised in terms of art history. If artists and their societies do not make themselves clear, then it will be left to the historians of the future to write books that will define it for them.
I’m suggesting that the term Botanical Art be sustained as a Primary definition.
As a Secondary definition, I feel it is an excellent proposal for all artists in this field to make themselves clear what they do and why – for example, Botanical Illustrator, Conceptual Plant Curator, Flower Painter. This is what many professional artists have already accomplished.
It is vital for an individual artist to link the techniques they use with purpose and meaning of their art. It also provides a catalogue of variation of all manner of unique art practices for both the artist and the art watcher. If Botanical Art becomes defined as only a style of painting for professional painters that focus on painting techniques alone, it will serve a much narrower purpose and be something of a lost opportunity.
If the opportunity is lost through lack of recognition, Botanical Art might perhaps never shake off the general association with the amateur artist that it has carried for generations.
In short, raising this issue has perhaps brought a point of pressure where all artists who work with plants can be interested and inspired to make their purpose clear, and to become much greater as artists by so doing.
Every artistic work has a meaning however shallow it might appear, even if the meaning remains unconscious in the artist’s mind and is never fully understood. Techniques are magical in themselves; the practice of them is a gifting when they are used to enable an artistic intention. Younger artists will naturally seek to develop their chosen field, and they need to feel welcomed in this, and free to grow and make changes. Perhaps if the older more empowered artists can come to a clear agreement of what Botanical Art actually means, then the artistic environment will then become a stable one for young artists to develop their art and make their own generational change for the new.
I myself feel that it is best to take the timeline of Botanical Art as a Primary definition because it honours the Plant Kingdom as well as the many kinds of artists that are devoted to working with it. Particularly as some artists work as both illustrators and painters, and labels can be as many and as long and as short as we want them to be. It would never be an uncomfortable situation for a Scientific Illustrator to also work as a Conceptual Plant Sculptor.
Defining your actual artistic practice opens a door to clarity as some have the capacity to hybridize more than one technique and more than one purpose. There are so many possibilities here too, because artists may choose to redefine themselves with a new name for their style of work. There is no Botanical Art policing that says you have to use the existing terms that others use. If a new name best describes what you do, then give your style of work a new name and work with it.
If you see others simply being glamour ridden and only concerned with awards, and this competitive attitude disturbs you, then don’t worry – simply be clear to yourself what you want, then just do it.
The field of Botanical Art as a whole can embrace whatever you want to do as an artist in the plant kingdom. The one clear unification that all Botanical Artists have is that they all serve to enable humanity’s clearer understanding of the Plant Kingdom itself, and this is therefore a kind of very special form of service for an artist to undertake. The chance is there for young artists to take the best of what tradition can offer through the generosity of many exceptional teachers, and the availability of so many exhibitions worldwide. The test for a young artist is to run with what traditions inspire them, and fuse these into the scope of something that is really brand new.
And finally, an enticing thought – I wonder what Maria Sibylla Merian, Joseph Beuys, Mary Grierson, and Michael Landy would say to each other if they had all had the chance to meet? They may have far more in common than we would ever think possible.