Looking at the View

Head outside and find somewhere quiet; it needn’t be a conventionally scenic spot. Then stop. Press that red button on your phone. Yes, that’s right, the one that switches it off, something you’re unfamiliar with. Close your eyes. Breathe in deep and exhale. Feel the breeze on your skin and rub the tips of your fingers. Open your eyes and let the world reveal itself to you.
Your disposition will define whether that is a cathartic experience, or merely an unfortunate distraction. The former will relish, the latter with loathe. Two peas in a pod are never the same, so no right, no wrong, it is what it is.
Composition… we’re always composing. Not symphonies unless you like dreaming, but by virtue of sight and the natural frame our eyes afford us of the world. It is this understanding that dictates the ideas floating around a new exhibition at Tate Britain.
Looking at the View is a thematic analysis of the way artists have helped shape our vision of the landscape over the last 300 years. From close-ups to bird’s-eye views to depictions of scenery from way out on the horizon, what is revealed is a shared language of sight. Unconnected artists have imagined and caught snapshots of the world in very similar ways.
The show takes us from the golden age of romantic landscape painting to contemporary depictions of the environment through photography and film. Artists and works of art from different periods have been assembled through analogous representations, be it a horizontal line or the way in which a tree has been composed.
For example, Tristram Hillier’s life-changing La Route des Alps (1937) – he once remarked that it was the “beginning of my ultimate phase in painting” – can be seen in Paul Graham’s Roundabout, Andersontown, Belfast (1984). Both portray a certain sterility of manmade structures, against which loiters the natural world.
Again, ancestry can be observed in Richard Long’s The Crossing Place of Road and River. A Walk of the Same Length as the River Avon: An 84 Mile Northward Walk Along the Foss Way Roman Road (1977) and John Crome’s Mousehold Heath (1818-20).
Both act as guides, taking you from the near ground, deep into the distance, journeys undertaken by those before you and those after you, paths to different places that act as revelations to all accounts.
The amazing thing about this show is that it gives pause to thought about how we see the world. In such an age as ours, where the humble image is digital, multipliable alterable and consumable, a certain desensitisation to objects and their habitat can occur.
This exhibition gives us an opportunity to reconnect with the visuals of the world, to take wonder in the magnificence of sight and to enjoy that feeling of finally of being out of the rush of twenty first century life, even if it’s only a short while.
“A poor life is this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” Quite so William Henry Davies, quite so.
Looking at the View at Tate Britain runs until June 2nd 2013.
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