“It is indeed in…the belief in the beneficent progress of civilisation, that I…entreat you…
to enter into the real meaning of the arts, which are surely the expression of reverence for nature,
and the crown of nature, the life of man upon the earth… [I]n all I have been saying,
what I have been really urging on you is this—Reverence for the life of Man upon the Earth.”
—William Morris, “The Prospects of Architecture in Civilization”
Because the over-riding theme of the Gallery is landscape painting, every work we have here is an expression of William Morris’s plea. Every landscape painting is a prospect on the one thing that matters most, that most deserves our reverence: the Earth. And perhaps nothing on Earth stirs our reverence like mountains—especially when they’re bathed in the sun of dawn. So of all the paintings in the Gallery, the one that strikes me as most suitable for this special day, Earth Day, is Richard Lindenberg’s magnificent “High Sierra Sunrise.”
This Earth Day comes at an extraordinary and opportune moment. All around the world, daily routine has come to a standstill, with no clear view of when or if the normal life we’ve known will return. In this suspended state, those who aren’t paralyzed or consumed by escapism are trying to make sense of a strange, radically altered landscape, and our place and our prospects in it.
The moment feels nothing short of transformational; an old order has proven untenable, and a new one—if we seize the day—awaits our making. From our solitude, looking out our windows, the planet’s atmosphere, blessedly if only momentarily free of pollution, might seem to afford us rare and clear prospect. If amidst crisis, uncertainty and confusion we see no clear answers, we may at least sight the one clear question raised by every crisis—and every new day: Where do we begin? What are those first things, the foundational things to which we must first attend? What, before all else, matters?
We begin where we must begin, the place of all beginnings, from which all life springs, and where we’ve been all along—though we’d stopped noticing our Great Place. Until the powers of nature humbled us, knocked us to the ground, brought us back to Earth.
In this strange, still moment before dawn, perhaps it’s dawning on us that the Earth matters or nothing matters. Her health is our own common “underlying condition.” The Earth is not only the basis of our life, but the whole of Life—that whole of which we are merely a part. If we believe with Morris in “the beneficent progress of civilization,” the life of this planet must become a matter not only of first concern but the first object of our reverence.
And then, as Morris taught, with renewed reverence for our life upon the Earth our arts will regain their true meaning as nothing more nor less than our “help in the work of creation.”
And that day will be a good day for the Earth.
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