EDUCATOR'S GUIDE: SEA CHANGE, The Seascape in Contemporary Photography

THE SEA IN ART

For centuries artists have drawn inspiration for their work from the sea. In more recent times, the sea has often served as a subject for paintings, but the history of art reveals that artists from around the world have depicted the sea in a variety of media that reflect their cultures and the times in which they lived.

Tom Millea
The Wave, 1985
Platinum/palladium print
Courtesy of the artist and Winfield Gallery, Carmel
©1998 Tom Millea

The sea-dominated geography of ancient Greece had a great impact on the ancient Aegean cultures and their art. Motifs derived from sea life, like dolphins, octopus, and seaweed were often found on wall paintings, mosaic murals, and pottery that date back to 1600 B.C.

Scandinavian civilizations in the ninth through eleventh centuries A.D. demonstrated their reverence for the sea through intricate wood carvings on their ships. Royal ships were often decorated with curving lines and interlacing designs that represented the spirit and energy of the sea-faring Vikings. Scandinavian people sometimes buried important leaders and kings in the ground, accompanied by their elaborate, fully outfitted ships!

European Christian art depicted the sea in devotional paintings, sculptural reliefs and carved altars. In the exhibition catalogue, essayist James Hamilton-Paterson suggests that these were instructional works serving as reminders of the primordial chaos that had reigned before the opening of Genesis, and of how the sea came to be after Noah's Flood--God s reminder to us of what would happen if we ever again incurred His wrath.

The ocean as a subject, contained by horizon and sky, was a popular subject of nineteenth-century Japanese woodblock artists such as Hokusai. Several ocean-connected cultures in Polynesia, Melanesia, and Africa continue to create art made from related objects such as shells, fish bones and teeth, and palm leaves and bark.

When considering seascapes in art, what often comes to mind are paintings by nineteenth- century and early twentieth-century artists such as J.M.W. Turner, Frederick Church, James Whistler, or Winslow Homer. Inspired by the notion of the sublime--the awesome, grandiose and beautiful power of nature--these and other Romantic artists evoked a range of emotions in their work from serenity to fear and isolation. They responded to the power the sea held over human existence, experience and emotion. This period in history also coincides with the development of the first practical photographic process in 1839 and the first important photographer of the sea, Gustave Le Gray, who worked on the theme in the 1850s.

Robbert Flick
Surf1.Var2, 1997
Iris print
Collection of the Center for Creative Photography,
The University of Arizona
©1998 Robbert Flick

Pure seascapes appeared only rarely in paintings or photographs after Impressionism and Romanticism faded in the early part of the twentieth century. The work in this exhibition represents a returning interest in the sea as an important photographic subject, a trend recognized by exhibition curator, Trudy Wilner Stack.

CONTENTS | CURATOR'S OVERVIEW | THE SEA IN ART
SEA CHANGE ARTISTS, A TO L | SEA CHANGE ARTISTS, M TO Y
DISCUSSING AND INTERPRETING THE PHOTOGRAPHS | OCEAN FACTS | BIBLIOGRAPHY
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