Artifice for Art’s Sake

19 Nov

My own experience is that the more we study art, the less we care for nature. What art really reveals to us is nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. Nature has good intentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said, she cannot carry them out. When I look at a landscape I cannot help seeing all its defects. It is fortunate for us, however, that nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we should have no art at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach nature her proper place.

Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying.

It was with great interest that I read of Anne Wareham’s protest against the Yellow Book and the jaundiced subsequent expulsion of her garden, Veddw, from its pages. Mrs Wareham has the noble aim of bringing gardens and gardening to the audience they deserve rather than the sad audience they currently have. Her website loads up our gardens with the burden of concepts that they are probably not able to bear.* I say that this is a good thing and I quote Oscar Wilde, above, in my support. Artifice is an inescapable part of creating a garden. But it is more than that. Lying about nature is the whole point of creating a garden.

*The point being that a garden, like music, can suffer from being too perfect in form. Perfection in a garden is in inverse proportion to its interest. In music, Mozart, Haydn and early Beethoven are the perfection of the sonata form but are of no interest, whereas Berlioz, Mahler and Scriabin bolt on all sorts of unnecessary extras and are a riveting listen.


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