What is the relationship between landscape and creativity?
There are little hotspots all over the world to which groups of creative people are drawn. But why? Surely it’s not simply a question of contacts and existing artistic infrastructure – though clearly this helps. Is it something to do with landscape? And if some landscapes provoke more creative responses than others, which kind does it for you?
In the west country of the UK we can do wild and bleak or cute and scenic. We get a lot of rain – but this is why the grass is always greener…
There are more writers, musicians, potters, artists, weavers, sculptors and glass blowers here, than anywhere else in the UK. And tourists of all nationalities brave our English weather and come in their thousands to visit our galleries, exhibitions, mills, shops and craft centres. But what is it about the landscape that inspires creativity?
Is it perhaps the sense of history? In ‘Bay of Secrets,’ artist Andres and his famous father are inspired by the landscape of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. It is ancient and volcanic, rather like a lunar landscape with rolling pink-brown hills, craters and giant sand dunes cradling turquoise lagoons studded by black rocky outcrops.
Age can certainly give a landscape a vibe – Lyme Regis, Charmouth and the Jurassic Coast of Dorset have a sense of history which literally clings to the fossilized rocks, the cliffs and the beaches. Roman roads and ancient forts abound.
In the novels of Thomas Hardy, Dorchester provides an artistic legacy too – of the writerly kind.
When Andres comes to Dorset in ‘Bay’, he is equally inspired by the golden sandstone cliffs of West Bay – as recently featured in ITV’s crime drama ‘Broadchurch’.
Following ‘Broadchurch,’ visitors (known locally as ‘Broadies’!) have flocked to West Bay to see for themselves those amazing, towering honey-bricked cliffs.
Or is it perhaps the tranquillity of a natural landscape – be it coastal, woodland, upland or riverside – which appeals to the creative mind and feeds our desire to get back to nature and away from the noise, turmoil and stress of busy city life?
Sometimes, walking along the vastness of Chesil Beach, you feel solitary, humble, affected by Nature. It’s liberating.
There again, the drama of a steep gorge or a rocky headland can also be inspiring – as Sister Julia experiences in ‘Bay of Secrets’; the sea’s turbulence echoing her own inner turmoil. Her landscape on the Island has both complexity and emotional depth. She has a spiritual response to it; she imagines that it helps her to hear her God’s guidance and voice.
Artists here in Dorset often talk about the quality of the light for painting.
The rocks range from the orange sandstone of West Bay through to the Blue Lias of Lyme; where there is light there is always shadow.
As for Fuerteventura… There is a late-afternoon light that tints the landscape with a deep yellow and turns the sand (and blonde hair!) an unearthly golden green.
Whatever the personal response to landscape, it seems that this is a relationship and a dialogue between individual and place. Landscape brings out the creativity in us all. It encourages us to reflect, express ourselves and even to change our thinking.
Landscape might offer a glimpse of memory and the past – as it does for Ruby in ‘Bay’ when she first sees the turquoise lagoon in Fuerteventura, otherwise known as the ‘Bay of Secrets’. It might even offer a glimpse of the future.
I always felt I belonged to West Dorset. It’s my ‘soul home’. And I’m always happiest writing where there is a sea view.
It may be in my local cafe in West Bay with the high bank of ginger pebbles and the waves right beside me, the harbour and the sandstone cliffs beyond. Or in Fuerteventura on the Playa de Castillo watching the surfers ride the wild waves. It might be a tranquil summer day or bleak mid-winter. The sea lets me dream – it does it for me every time.
– Rosanna Ley