“Nature, however beautiful, is not art.” / by Jeannine Cook

The Coming of Night at Keckliko, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, 1920s


In Martha R. Severens’ book on Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, An Artist, a Place and a Time, (http://www.gibbesmuseum.org/) she quotes Birge Harrison saying that “Nature, however beautiful, is not art. Art is natural beauty interpreted through human temperament”. This was a tenet Alice Ravenel Huger Smith kept very much in mind when she was painting her luminous watercolors of the Low Country around Charleston.

It is an observation that constantly resonates with me as I try to interpret the landscapes of coastal Georgia or places I visit in Europe. What to select first, when one is choosing a scene? How to portray the subject one has chosen? What medium is best? Why is one attracted to that scene chosen – what makes it so special that one wants to spend time and energy depicting it?

Working plein air is a wonderful exercise in humility. The light changes, the insects bite, one loses the initial spark of excitement, the wind blows… so many challenges! But if one keeps on going and tries to remember why that scene called out to be drawn or painted, somehow one struggles on through to some form of conclusion. Later, the studio is the place for consideration and evaluation of what one has tried to accomplish. Watercolor and silverpoint drawings are both unforgiving so it is hard to make many changes. Nonetheless, sometimes, the natural beauty does get interpreted in successful fashion and the landscape painting or drawing works out. That leaves me with a good feeling and makes me all the more eager to go out looking for the next installment of “beautiful nature”.