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Publication Information

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Title: The suffocating embrace of landscape and the picturesque conditioning of ecology

Author: Ellison, A.M.;

Date: 2013

Source: Landscape Journal

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: What are natural landscapes? Are they “out there,” separate from people, or are they creations of our own perception? An exploration of artistic visions of landscape on the one hand and the development of ecology as a self-conscious science on the other suggests that for nearly 150 years ecology has been conditioned by romantic, picturesque portrayals of landscape. Landscape (as landscab) originally implied people living within and shaping a capricious nature, but rapidly evolved to landtskip: natural scenery reflecting a balance of nature viewed from the outside. Despite repeated scientific demonstrations of the lack of ecological balance at any time now or in the past, ecologists (and most other people) persist in clinging to a romantic conception of landscape with nature in balance. An explicit analogy between Fernand Léger’s 1959 lithograph La Ville—Le Viaduc and an oldgrowth Douglas fir/Western red cedar forest suggests that Modernist or Postmodernist visions of landscape may be more realistic visual representations of nature. To reframe and reconfigure ecology and environmental stewardship to better reflect current understanding of how nature—including people—“works,” contemporary landscape artists must engage with ecologists, environmental scientists, landscape architects, and the broader public to redefine the nature of nature.

Keywords: ecology, landscape, landscape art, modernism, postmodernism, old-growth forests, sublime

Publication Notes:

  • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.



Ellison, A.M. 2013. The suffocating embrace of landscape and the picturesque conditioning of ecology. Landscape Journal. 32: 79-94.


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