Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

King Creativity at Southwestern

An Exploration of the Relationship Between the Human and Nature

by Meili Peterson

My proposal for the King Creativity project was to complete my Honors Project in Art entitled “A Human Encounter With Nature.” This project was to be an artistic exploration of the human and nature on many levels; including both the seen and the unseen realms of existence. For both people and nature contain the seen and the unseen, matter and non-matter. The wind cannot be held within one’s grip, and nor can one’s emotion. However, a tree can be touched and the physicality of a body can be felt. Through artistic expression, I planned on using paint, pigments, earth and other such elements to probe and search within the depth of the creations of man and earth in both their materiality and immateriality.

I also planned to execute my discoveries in the form of paintings and in a ten to twenty page paper which I successfully completed last semester. In this paper, I recorded my discoveries of nature in terms of the sublime. The sublime became a motivating force behind many of my paintings as I tried to discover how to create the sublime in art. This concept of the sublime embraces beautifully the seen aspects of nature as well as the unseen forces that cause one to surrender to the beauty of one’s surroundings. The material and the immaterial continued to play an important role in my research in this way.

I furthermore planned on using the grant to fund a model, my sister, who posed for all of my paintings involving the figure. In these paintings, I attempted to unite as well as juxtapose the human figure within nature hence connoting our oneness with nature as well as our separateness from nature. In these paintings, I furthermore introduced elements of the sublime such as that of surrender, obscurity and enchantment. I also did a series of body paintings in which I used the natural elements of clay, ash and pigment to paint myself and/or my model. These body paintings were documented by photographs and will be exhibited in April alongside the many paintings I have completed throughout this past year. In all of these paintings, I concentrated on my theme of figure and nature as well as on the notion of the “sublime,” a word that has guided my work with such a strong and leading force throughout my execution of this project.

Extensive research on Diderot, Edmunde Burke and Kant guided both my written and artistic expression towards this concept of the sublime. I have found that the sublime is a force within nature that strikes one with wonder, awe and amazement as it elevates the mind and soul to a realm of contemplation. In this wonder and awe, the inexplicable, or the obscure is a key force that pulls one into the world of the sublime. Upon encountering such obscurity, one is called to surrender to the picture plane or the world around him or her in order that he or she may be drawn into the sight. It is through this act of surrender, according to Diderot, Burke and Kant, that the viewer becomes elevated to the level of the sublime. The sublime encompasses what I set out to do at the beginning of this project as it illustrates the dual existence of matter and anti-matter. The material world becomes a vehicle that leads the viewer into the immaterial realm of existence. My research on the sublime has most definitely enabled me to accomplish my goal as an artist in uniting the physical with the non- physical facets of our existence.

I am very grateful for the King Creativity Grant that enabled me to purchase art supplies to complete my paintings. I was also able with this money to purchase wood to frame my paintings for my Senior Exhibition that will take place in April. I was also able to use the grant to pay for models and to buy books that supplemented my exploration with research on the sublime.