Art and Nature / Nina Pops and Sagebrush

ImageI have always made a sharp distinction between art and nature. The former is a subjective response to nature. The latter simply is nature.

Two drawings and a painting by Nina Pops and a stick of sagebrush our dog Blue ripped off a bush to play with have me wondering if that distinction is unfounded.

Here are the three works of art, hanging on our wall and photographed at an angle because of reflections.

And here is the stick of sagebrush:Image

The works of art, I think, are carefully calculated, formal and ruled, geometrical.

The sagebrush is organic, curved and pitted, geometrical in ways only calculus could make sense of, almost accidental.

I look at the drawing and painting again and remember what Nina told me when I asked about her work.

“I don’t plan them advance,” she said. “I don’t lay them out, I just start and see where they’ll take me. One line leads to another, one color leads to the next, one texture flows into whatever feels right. The picture takes shape out of my gut.” They are, then, less cerebrally calculated than I originally thought.

The sage, I think, grew in response to various forces. There was the initial DNA. There was the seed. There was a certain set of species limits. And then the individual plant grew in response to the rocky soil, to the sparse or plentiful rainfall, to the heat and the cold, to the weight of snow, to the cropping of deer, to the press of oakbrush and other sage. The piece Blue found is like no other. Its curves and indentations are unique. Were I to set it next to another branch the two would set up a dialectic that makes an eye move back and forth in delight and maybe even understanding.


A similar interplay happens when I look at the three works of art. Every time I find a pattern it is quickly undercut. Every expectation is played out and then disappointed. Every darkness finds its way to light. Every clear line cuts through obscurity. Every obscurity is sliced by precision. There is no other drawing exactly like this in the world, although Nina has a whole series of graphite drawings that bear a species resemblance. (click here to see more of them)

Click on the graphite image for a closer look at delicate variations on the theme of pencil on paper.

The rough paper acts as DNA. The graphite is a trait of species. The artist’s responses are within strict limits and have only the bounds of what was begun and what may come to be.

About Scott Abbott

Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University, 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I'm Director of the Program in Integrated Studies and former Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade), and translations of a book by Austrian author Peter Handke and of a catalogue of an exhibit called "The German Army and Genocide." More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as a watershed scientist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a corrections officer, as university students, and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett and our yellow dog Blue. Some publications at
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