Nature Notes: Thoughts from the TreeSong Community
Featuring Monica Vilhauer
Nature Inspired Art
There are many ways that we might approach nature. We might take it apart, dissect it, and examine how it works. We might use it as a resource to consume. We might predict what it’s going to do next. Or, we might treat it like an adventure or a form of entertainment. I’ve been thinking about approaches to nature that open up new, alternative relationships with it; approaches that de-center the human being, remove the quality of human domination from the equation, and allow us to co-mingle, co-exist, and partner with the natural world. Experiences like these seem crucial for developing the kinds of habits, respect, and care needed for our planet to heal. I find that artistic activities in nature foster unique experiences in which we become listeners, learners, and appreciators of nature. In these artistic encounters, we begin to approach nature not as an “it” but as a “you.”
When I am able to get out of the city and into a more natural environment like TreeSong to draw, sculpt, write, or make mosaics, I find myself slowing down . . . way down. I start to really look and listen, and open myself up to other living creatures that I normally ignore. It is an opportunity to finally take my mind off of myself, to be present in my body and my surroundings, and to linger. In this state, all the creatures start to show themselves and speak in their unique languages. I start to notice the gestures of those around me. I notice how that branch leans, and how that fern curls. What is it reaching for? What does it need? What does it value most? What captures its attention? Am I getting in the way of its light? I become a student, a partner, an interested friend in conversation with my world. I start to discover something new about different ways of living.
Monica Vilhauer is a philosophy professor and artist who has been involved in a wide array of art forms since she was a young teenager – including ceramics, metal jewelry work, mosaics, music, and dance choreography. Her recent interest in the philosophy of nature has led her to experiment with nature-inspired art as a process for cultivating new relationships with nature in which we are not consumers, knowers, manipulators, or predictors of nature, but listeners, learners, appreciators, and partners with nature.