Nature: A Social History

April 29 through August 14, 2022

On view in the Weil Graphic Arts Study Center

Overview

Nature holds within it the breadth of human history.

This idea, which is visually represented in this exhibition through art from the permanent collection, was first proposed by novelist and critic Raymond Williams (Welsh, 1920–1988) in his essay, titled “Ideas of Nature.” He states that over the course of history, definitions and depictions of nature changed as society’s ideas and experiences expanded. A sort of timeline of our “social history,” Williams distinguishes these shifting views into four phases: nature defined as the inherent quality of a thing, nature as a personification of the divine or a natural order, nature as controlled by people and the last as a reversal—nature as something unspoilt by humans.

Nature: A Social History guides viewers through the evolution of humankind’s relationship with nature by presenting and interpreting various artworks through those frameworks. Though Williams’ text follows past society through a linear progression of the phases, today we are likely to possess a more holistic understanding of our connection to nature—defined by how each person sees themselves among the world. A Social History invites viewers to contemplate how they define their personal interactions with nature and to explore these interactions through different worldviews.

Hero: Maltby Sykes (American, 1911–1992), Lunar Survey, 1970, lithograph on paper, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of the artist, 1981.10.15

Headshot: Raymond Williams at home in White Cottage, Hardwick, Cambridgeshire, 1969, Photograph courtesy of the Raymond Williams Society, (c) The Estate of Raymond Williams

Resources

Nature holds within it the breadth of human history.

Organizer

Organized by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama.

Sponsor

Support for this exhibition was provided in part by a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

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