How Landscape Became Doctrine in American Art

Thomas Cole, “View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow” (1836), Metropolitan Museum of Art

Outside of his popular Modern Art Notes podcast, Tyler Green is working to reinvigorate the tradition of Americana in art history. His first bookCarleton Watkins: Making the West American (2018), traced the influence of one photographer on the formation of national parks. Yosemite became the nation’s first act of “landscape preservation,” which was central to a burgeoning United States cultural identity. As frontiersmen settled the park’s surroundings, Watkins captured “cathedral spires” on the Sierra Mountains, gesturing at nature’s spiritual essence and the protestant foundations of Manifest Destiny.

Throughout the 19th century, nature served as inspiration for American artists, thanks partially to transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose 1836 essay “Nature” encourages religious and aesthetic separatism from Europe’s old muses.

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