The numinous land : examples of sacred geometry and geopiety in formalist and landscape paintings of the prairies
Landscape painting and formalist painting, both terms taken in their broadest possible sense, have been the predominant forms of painting on the prairie, particularly in Saskatchewan, for several decades. The two tendencies are not diametrically opposed, but related as parts of a spectrum; in the work of some artists both tendencies are plainly present. In an effort to understand the nature and endurance of this peculiar relationship, I interviewed a variety of prairie artists and discovered a significant yet unexamined aspect of prairie painting that may be considered an underlying cause. Based on the testimony of these and other artists, as well as an examination of their work, I reached the conclusion that it is possible to regard many examples of prairie painting as responses to encounters with the spiritual forces that inhabit familiar locales. If the land is sacred, then it is not surprising that representations of the land–and it can be argued that all paintings are ultimately derived from our experiential awareness of the earth–have a spiritual aspect based on the structure of the land. The evidence for this awareness of the sacred is found in archetypal geometric structures within the paintings and frequently in statements by the artists. Three of these archetypal forms, examples of a sacred geometry, are the Mandala or Medicine Wheel, the Horizon, and the Axis Mundi or World Tree. Sacred geometry occurs across cultural boundaries, within the Academy, in the work of unschooled artists, in innovative and traditional art forms, with or without the conscious intention of the artist. Because it springs from a poignant awareness of the physical environment it suggests an elevated reverence or geopiety that promises hope for ecological and cultural healing and wholeness.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
DepartmentArt and Art History
CommitteeThompson, John; Bell, Lynne; Bell, Keith; Longman, Mary
Copyright DateJune 2012
painting as prayer