Is it necessary for anyone else to see my garden as an artwork ?

Dear Monty,

There has been a lot of debate (with more to come) on the subject of - can gardens be art.
The online discussion on has already stimulated some strong points of view. One comment in particular suggested that we do not need any manifestos by the artist to describe their work because if it is a 'good' piece of art it should stand for itself. I partially agree with that statement, however, the subjectivity with which we view an artwork comes with a whole set of prejudices which, if we are not careful, could stop us from appreciating a new vision of the world as seen by artists who are living within the cultural influences of the present day.

Having said all of that, I'm very much influenced by the traditions and crafts of the past, and although appreciating 'modern' and contemporary artwork, poetry, music and gardens, my default is traditional but modified by contemporary life.

Is any of this important ? Probably in the grand scheme of a fractured world - no. Perhaps the fact that we can have this debate at all illustrates how far removed we are from the struggle of day to day existence that more than half the world's population have to endure. And yet, even in those struggles - it is often art, music and poetry that sustains something deeper in the human spirit ( if you believe in a spirit that is ). A few years ago I visited Latvia, just when it entered into the European Union. They were celebrating freedom from former Soviet tyranny and entering into another kind of tyranny (in my opinion).To try and understand their past, I visited a museum in Riga which was dedicated to preserve evidence of Soviet brutality toward the native Latvians. In amongst the grim photographs and harrowing letters, there were drawings and small sculptural objects that were hidden away from prying eyes that literally made me weep. Here were people in extremis in the Gulags still able to make beautiful things.

What am I trying to say ? Well, for me, understanding something of the background of those that made the artwork enhanced their impact on me, and took me deeper than just a surface judgement made purely on aesthetics. I believe that understanding where the artist is coming from helps you to appreciate the source of the vision. Whether you consider it 'good' art or not - the fact you looked a little deeper changes your view.

As I have said on many occasions - I am a fool, because I don't believe that scientific analysis or statistical analysis or meta analysis will ever touch the human spirit.

It is not necessary for anyone else to see my garden as an artwork, but to me it is an artwork because I employ the same process of editing and adding, of sculpting and painting as I do with my art. This garden is about me and my response to this place beneath a coal tip.



  1. Am I a Phillistine if I say that gardening is NOT art? I argue that art requires a finished product to meet its definition. You may take a long time over a painting but there will come a point when it is finished and will not change. If you compost a piece of music, it will reach a point where you finish it as a composition. A conductor may then interpret that composition but at the point of performance the interpretation becomes finite. A book is published; a play is performed.

    But a garden is never completed because nature will not co-operate. Plants will die and need to be replaced. Many trees have a lifespan; flowering cherries are an example, being comparatively short-lived. Those that live long and prosper force change as their shade canopy expands.

    So I argue that gardening is not an art but a craft. And gardens are not works of art but craftworks always in progress.

    Vive le (or is it la?) difference.

    1. John I would never call you a Phillistine ! There is definitely craft involved and I do not see craft as subordinate to art. Many artists would argue that the making of a work, that is the technical laying down of marks, the composition etc - is both a skill and a craft. The art comes with the seed of inspiration, it is about the act of bringing forth a vision or a concept and making it visible. The resulting artwork is simply the outworking of the concept. There have been many artists who simply say that the concept is the art and not the finished product. Classic examples of this within the world of fine art would include performance artists such as Joseph Beuys, and more recently Simon Starling a conceptual artist. Also land artists such as Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy made/make art in the landscape using materials to hand, they last only for a limited time, and the only record of the actual artwork is a photograph, much like photographs capture the changing nature of gardens. There are many many more examples. I suspectthat even JWM Turner felt the process of making an image appear from the canvas, the idea becoming flesh was just as much the art as the painting itself. Nothing lasts forever, not even paintings. I hope this makes some sense.


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