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History of viewing mountain landscapes
Parks, gardens and the pastoral landscape
The explorer’s view of new landscapes
Pricing landscape quality
Health and restorative benefits of landscapes
Water, the secret ingredient
These are described briefly below.
Landscape paintings are so ubiquitous today that one would suppose it has always been thus. However it was not so. Prior to the Renaissance, paintings of landscapes were rare, indeed the depiction of landscapes was mainly as a backdrop to the painting, as is evident in the Mona Lisa. Gradually however landscape came to the fore until, in the 19th century, it was described by Sir Kenneth Clark as the chief artistic creation of that century.
In 1657, mountains were described with epithets such as “Warts, Wens, Blisters, Tumours, Imposthumes” yet a century later, in 1769, Thomas Gray wrote of the Scottish highlands: “the mountains are ecstatic”. These were not isolated descriptions, they epitomise a sea change in attitudes towards mountain landscapes that occurred in as little as fifty years during the early 18th century. The reasons for this change illustrate the influence of culture on a society’s attitudes towards nature, and landscapes in particular.
Gardens, parks and the pastoral landscape speak to the subconscious mind of pleasant idleness, of an absence of necessity of work, and of bounteous provision. As enclosed areas, parks and gardens isolate and insulate the individual from the external world, they cosset the individual in an environment in which time and space and the demands of life are less important for a while.
This theme examines the contribution that parks, gardens and the pastoral scene have made in influencing Western attitudes towards landscapes. The assumption is that parks and gardens, being artificial creations, reflect the idealized form of micro-landscape; their design and characteristics epitomize the ideals which society seeks from such landscapes.
Explorers view a new landscape with new eyes. Often they see a landscape unlike anything they have previously been exposed to. Their impressions as newcomers in a new land are therefore all the more valuable. Later, settlers will adapt and adjust to the new landscape, gradually absorbing it as they possess it as their own, but as a process this often takes several generations. An explorer is exposed to new sights and sounds with every new day, every hill they climb, every river and plain crossed and every experience they endure.
This theme examines a little of what the explorers saw as they encountered a new land. Since the Old World has been largely explored millennia ago, Australia in the New World is used as the subject land to be explored. This occurred relatively recently, largely in the century following the initial settlement in 1788. Australia was largely explored by Europeans, in particular British explorers.
Good views add significantly to the value of properties, the quantity reflecting the laws of supply and demand. Values increase over time, probably because of diminishing supply and growing demand through increasing affluence.
That scenic areas bring dollars into an area by way of tourism has been recognized for well over a century but there are few quantified estimates of the amount. An estimate has been derived based upon the tourism revenue of 21 countries and compared with their total area, and the contribution that attractive landscapes are likely to make to the tourism dollar.
Research over recent years has confirmed what many suspected, that exposure to nature, landscapes and open green space has significant benefits in terms of better health, more rapid restoration from stress and fatigue and improved well-being. While the degree of improvement has been quantified in many studies, generally these have not been translated into dollar estimates.
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.
John Muir, 1912.
The quote, one of many about the healing benefits of nature, contends that nature heals and enriches the mind and body. Whether this is so has been the subject of much research over recent years and the universal conclusion has been that viewing and experiencing nature provides substantial emotional and physiological benefits. Comparing scenes of nature with scenes of urban areas, our preferences for nature are twice that of urban scenes while the restorative benefits that come from nature are at least three times that of urban exposure.
The research has used a range of psychological and physiological measures to evaluate the changes from exposure to nature and urban environments. Two theoretical approaches underlie the research: Roger Ulrich’s psycho-evolutionary theory in which positive emotional and physiological effects of experiences with nature have survival benefits; and Stephen and Rachel Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory in which the restorative exposure to nature helps the individual overcome directed attention fatigue.
As well as testing the theories through viewing or walking in urban and natural areas, studies also examined the effects of varying window views on patients and students and the effect of posters and murals in offices. In public housing areas, studies examined the effect of trees and grass in the surrounds on levels of aggression and violence in the units and crime in the area. A study in Holland found the amount of green space in the area positively affected perceived health of the individual.
Why does water elicit such a strong response from people? Why can just a glimpse of water yield the same response as a large expanse? Why are ratings of landscapes invariably lifted by the presence of water in lakes, rivers or the sea? What is it about water that compared with any other feature in the landscape, gives it an inordinate influence way out of proportion to its extent?
This theme examines studies of the influence of water on scenic quality and reviews possible explanations of its importance. It then presents a radical alternative explanation.