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Surrounding Environment

Zhang Xiaogang
Bath , 2017
Oil on canvas
Triptych: 260 x 600 cm (102.4 x 236.2 in.)
In the White Rabbit Gallery collection

The surrounding environment acts as the greatest source for visual artists. Some describe their surroundings, scenes they witness, and events in more direct ways; while others express the complex emotions inspired by their experiences in various methods. After all, artwork is a medium that conveys the artist’s spirit, and their surrounding environment has a significant effect on their work. The environment can simply refer to where the artist lives and work, the era they live in, or more broadly include their experience, the relationship with others, and social status. What can be seen in artwork differs depending on each artist and the time period even the depicted subject may be the same.

Paul Cézanne
Mont Sainte-Victoire (La Montagne Sainte-Victoire), 1892-1895
Oil on canvas
73 x 92 cm (28.7 x 36.2 in.)
In Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA

Paul Cézanne
Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 1904
Oil on canvas
70 x 92 cm (27.5 x 36.2 in.)
In Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA

Mont Sainte-Victoire is Paul Cézanne's lifetime motif. He had painted the mountain several times from the 1870s’ until his death in 1906, leaving about thirty paintings and watercolors which depicted it. Although the same subject was drawn, the mountain in each painting gives off a different atmosphere depending on the angle, weather, season, and the artist’s personal circumstances and experiences. For example, the paintings in the 1890’s, Cézanne focused more on depicting the scene sharply and flatly with respect to lightings, where the early 1900’s before his death, the paintings depend more on the atmosphere itself with less stable composition.

After the 20th century, through the two world wars and the Cold War, it became impossible to separate an individual’s life from the social and global conditions. The number of surrounding factors that influence people’s lives have increased, on top of the already existing complexity of life. One of the art forms that addresses our surrounding environment within the immediate society is community art; occupying urban space with art, Theaster Gates’s Dorchester Projects (began in 2009) help revitalize the artist’s neighborhood of South Side Chicago. Land art also surveys our surrounding environment, but in a bigger context of nature. The most recognized land art is Spiral Jetty (1970) by Robert Smithson, an earthwork that was built on the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

Related categories

Media Art

Land Art

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En Plein Air

Figures in Nature


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(Inspired by) National History

Different Perspectives

How to Define Contemporary Art

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