Landscape Aesthetics in Practice

Richard Keating


The beginning of the second decade of the first century of the third millennium.

2010 - UN International year of Biodiversity - diversity of species has declined by almost 30 per cent since 1970, according to a WWF report.

2011 - UN Year of the Forest - “Trees stand for me as a threshold into the huge world of the environment.” David Nash, RA Magazine Summer 2010, Issue Number: 107

“We have a task in hand. Culture in the developed western world has always positioned itself in distinction to nature: now we have to discover our nature within nature. We have to re-evaluate the function of art within the framework of a sustainable lifestyle… Is it possible to re-think art and take it from this finished-object status and make it into a verb, a participatory, open space, a place of transformation and exchange of ideas and reflection on our state and status? Can we use art as a way of investigating this perilous time?” Anthony Gormley, Art in the Time of Global Warming published in “Long Horizons: An Exploration of Art and Climate Change”, British Council, February 2010.

This is a blog about the development of my art walking practice as research into some of the ways that people value place and how these various ways of appreciating places can be expressed and read together as a community vision or aesthetic. It does this in the context of community resilience and landscape change. The practice is the subject of PhD research funded by Swansea Metropolitan University, now a part of The University of Wales, Trinity Saint David.

The blog records and reflects on various pieces of fieldwork which are themselves pieces of participatory action research. The practice described can loosely be called collaborative or relational art; it involves developing briefs with co-researchers, partnership brokering, facilitation, ‘art-walking’ with people and making work. This primary research benefits from the co-operation and collaboration of many people, organisations, agencies and artists. In particular the work is developing from the practice of the Gloucestershire arts collective, “Walking the Land”, Stroud Common Wealth, Cotswold Conservation Board, Stroud Nature and Vision 21 Facilitators Learning Network.

My research question relates to the integration of subjective and cognitive appreciation of landscape and the ability of an arts practice to enable people to develop an engaged and relational aesthetic for their place.

The initial focus of the research is based on a number of initiatives in Stroud, Gloucestershire which include “The Weave”, “Folly Wood Community Woodland” and The “River Map” project.