Geography as Art

By Matthew Rech

A recent article by William Cook (Guardian) describing a trip to Manchester’s Lowry centre reminded me both of a painting which hangs in my childhood home, and an article by D W Meinig which has helped me think with more focus about the connections between art and geography.

Cook provides a short but informative piece on the regeneration of the Salford Quays and a précis to the work and life of ‘Salford’s favourite son’, L S Lowry.

Lowry’s work, described by Cook as ‘matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs’, represents most commonly Manchester’s 1920s and 30s industrial landscape, and can be read as sharp pictorial evocations of the British industrial revolution. Lowry’s style, influenced by the French Impressionists, treats the everyday and banal with intimacy and fondness, with scenes such as A Procession (above) evoking a sense of cultural wealth amongst the industrial working classes.

Amidst other arguments in his 1983 paper, D W Meinig rejects the common void between the arts, humanities and social sciences, and argues for the essentiality of the relationship between art and geography. Following Yi Fu Tuan, Meinig suggests that art “not only provides essential clues about human experience with environment, it also contains models for dealing with some of the most difficult problems of descriptive synthesis” (317). In describing (or representing) place, artists also help to shape it: artists are ‘mythmakers’ suggests Meinig, and it is this writing of worlds that remains at the very soul of geography.

Most pertinent to cases such as Lowry’s, however, might be suggestions that geographers must “part company with those who insist that a geographical description should be replicable” (322). Our own subjective perceptions, much like Lowry’s representative idiosyncrasies, are intrinsic to the experience and study of space and place. And as Meinig argues, our partial and imperfect geographic descriptions must be celebrated and must form the foundation of a fuller humanistic geography.

Read Meinig, D W (1983) Geography as an Art. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 8. 3, 314-328

Read about Lowry at the Lowry centre website

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