The concept of art as something which an artist says is art now has almost a century’s worth of coverage, ever since Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, a found ready made urinal, was declared art and submitted to a New York art show.
But I thought Woodward made rather a strong case for some garden design to have wider coverage in the arts sections. It seemed to me quite conceivable that a visionary garden designer could create a garden with intent to express an enduring truth, and that the resulting garden could be an artwork. He may well see himself as an artist in this endeavour. But because he doesn’t call himself an artist, and presents his artwork in the Chelsea Flower show, it’s not seen by the critics as art.
Sometimes I think we are in danger far too much of allowing labels to get in the way. Even if not all gardens in the Chelsea Flower show are art, why shouldn’t we find an artwork or two amongst the exhibits? And even if a designer doesn’t call himself an artist, why shouldn’t his expression of higher truths through plants not be regarded as art? It’s too easy to point to Land Art as the artistic version of gardening and dismiss gardens created outside that particular genre.
But Radio 4 had more to contribute to my thinking that day. A couple of hours later in Woman’s Hour, I listened with delight to a discussion about the Japanese garden at Tatton Park in Cheshire which celebrates its centenary this year. This particular garden is arguably one of the finest examples of a Japanese garden in Europe, and I can remember the vivid impression it made on me when I visited it a number of times as a child. I have been intrigued by Japanese gardens ever since, and when I have visited Japan, visiting gardens has been a high priority. The images above are created from photos I took on a visit in 2006. The spirit in which such gardens are made, the contemplative and aesthetic experience they create and their wider references to Life make them integral to Japanese culture. They are high art indeed.
Buck is right when she talks about art being a matter of intention and context: but the irony is that intention and context is itself a product of a cultural paradigm, and in other cultures elsewhere, the nature of what art is can be very different indeed.