We who draw do so not only to make something observed visible to others, but also to accompany something invisible to its incalculable destination.” — John Berger

The prolific art critic and writer John Berger, author of “Ways of Seeing,” believed that animate and inanimate objects beg to be skillfully recorded by someone who can interpret their meanings and worth, and share it with others.

The social and art critic John Ruskin also stressed the importance of recording something verbally:

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way.”

Poetry, writing and visual arts classes at the Arboretum complement natural history classes by encouraging a closer, more personal look at the natural world. The classes follow a theme of nature journaling in which students respond to the natural world with a paintbrush or in a writing journal.

Artwork by Robert Johnson

The Western botanical illustration method tries to record accurate renditions of plants, and studying this tradition, which grew out of a need to classify plants before standard nomenclature, is an exercise in observation, sharpening the senses and focus. Asian approaches to painting encourage students to harness the exuberant life force that defines a sprig of blossoms, for example, or the resilience in a culm of bamboo. Photography celebrates the mystery of light to capture single moments of an ever-changing natural world. Eco-printing alters the chemistry of a leaf or flower to allow students to reveal details onto a piece of silk. Writing articulates intuitive responses to nature in order to express or defend the natural world. And this spring, a class on the history of nature art explores the various ways in which humanity has attempted to make things visible over the course of centuries.

All of these approaches enable reinterpretations of the natural world that can be shared, and while we may not accompany something to its “incalculable destination,” the attentiveness required to make art pulls us into the complex details of the natural world in an attempt to make it visible. We see, we learn and we pass it on.

The North Carolina Arboretum offers a variety of adult education classes focused on incorporating art with nature. To view the spring 2017 course list, please click here.