Ever since Bill Bryson found success with his writing in the late 90’s, there has been a surge in trail memoirs. Then in 2012, when Cheryl Strayed released Wild, the doors opened for women in the genre. A few days ago I finished reading Girl In The Woods by Aspen Matis. She is an up and coming writer whose debut memoir was released a few months ago. It follows her experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2008 after being raped on her second night of college. She turned to the trail to find something that she had lost that night and every moment after when another person in her life let her down.
What is it about the wilderness that attracts those who are searching for something? Maybe part of it’s that the wild surrounds them with art. Art is made to make us feel something, it changes us. We take pictures and paint landscapes, then put them up in galleries for people to experience. But what if the process is not the only art; let’s say that the subject, untouched, unaltered, is also art. Step out from behind the camera, put the paintbrush down, walk into the woods and be consumed by the natural art of the world. That feeling you get when you breathe in fresh air, when you stand at the top of a mountain overlooking a valley of trees; that is art. It’s art because it makes you feel. It makes you see the world a little differently.
People do not climb mountains to conquer them. Aspen and Cheryl did not hike the PCT in order to show their dominance. They did so for enlightenment. This is the same reason people go to exhibits and museums. Instead of basking in the passions of others, hikers bask in the passion that nature instills in them. Take an afternoon and walk in the woods or wherever you can surround yourself with nature. Now look at the scenery like you would if it was a painting or a famous photograph. Ask the same questions you would if you were in a museum and try to understand what your surroundings are all about. After Aspen and Cheryl spent so much time doing just that on their hikes, they eventually reflected within themselves. They took what they learned from nature’s beauty and grandeur and they applied it to their own problems. It’s the same as when you listen to a song that speaks to your own experiences. At first you hear the beat and how it moves you. Then you listen to the lyrics to try to figure out what the song is about. Eventually, you begin to relate that song to your own life. That is how you know the music is art to you. That is how you know that nature is art to you as well.
So when you look at landscape based art, make a point of taking yourself out of the mindset of the creator and put it into the mindset of the subject. There is not just art in the intent, but there is art in the subject itself. It has enough power to stand on its own, which is why so many people flock to it in search of its influence. If possible, take some time to be within the art itself by going into the wild with a new perspective. Sometimes when things are so familiar to you, their worth is forgotten. Use this new mindset and maybe you will see that art is all around, as long as you are willing to ask the right questions.