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Evaluating Nature - The Role of Botanical Art

It is frequently said that there is a new renaissance in Botanical Art. During the Enlightenment it played an important role in influencing society. Science and art worked together in the Age of Reason to document new ideas and to convey them to a wider audience. This period is seen as the golden age of botanical art where the foundation of modern botanical illustration was formed. botanical art captured the new introductions of the era and a great emphasis was placed on nature. Throughout the industrial revolution factors like urbanization, technological advancement and the rise of consumerism loosened our relationship with nature. With nature increasingly removed from our daily life, habitat loss, biodiversity decline and man-made climate change mostly went unnoticed. There were heralds like Wandersee & Schussler who defined Plant Blindness 20 years ago and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring published in 1962. Botanical art is ideally placed to engage a wider audience in these vital issues by showing the essential interconnected web of life on which all life depends. Issues like food security, valuing ecosystems, and highlighting local environmental projects are just some of the areas it can build awareness. In 2018 the Worldwide Botanical Art event held in the Ruskin Gallery (University of Lancaster) was an important first step in broadening the role of botanical art. It acted as a catalyst in the formation of several new botanical art societies and stimulated new links between them and with other plant based organizations. This special event day featured native flora, an idea at the heart of the current ‘act local think global’ philosophy. Botanical art faces its own challenges like the use of photographs taken on smartphones in the field replacing botanical illustrations in scientific journals (Alice Tangerini, The Botanical Artist, June 2019) while portable 3D scanners are now inexpensive and have a resolution of 0.1mm.

Naomi Gumma The Lifecycle of the Shimonita Welsh Onion © Katherine Tyrrell

Widening membership and focusing on the contemporary role of botanical art are important ambitions. The value we place on nature, not just pandas and peonies, but on the everyday, is equally important. Naomi Gumma’s series The Lifecycle of Shimonita Welsh Onion, at the 2019 RHS London Art and Photography Show, perfectly captures this ideal. An everyday plant elevated to a new level and receiving all the attention it deserves.

Betsy Rogers-Knox "Exploring the Seasons at Beckley Bog - The Botany and Beauty of Vascular Plants and Bog Benefits" © Katherine Tyrrell

Alternatively, rather than a focus on a single plant Betsy Rogers-Knox's exquisite series of illustrations "Exploring the Seasons at Beckley Bog - The Botany and Beauty of Vascular Plants and Bog Benefits " won a RHS Judges Special Award for its educational value. Betsy's work will be hung in local libraries in her native state of Connecticut, U.S.A. . What better location could there be to visually stimulate and encourage the viewer to pop over to the adjacent shelves to learn more.

For a comprehensive overview of the 2019 RHS Botanical Art and Photography Show, Katherine Tyrell's site is the best place to visit.

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