From constructing a forest of picturesque horrors to hearing the picturesque



The trees are seemingly scraggly, branches writhing like the twisted woods described as picturesque by Price.   That was one of the foremost definitions that seemed to stick in my mind, especially after the presentation.  I also began to wonder about a link between the picturesque and the sublime.  With one twisted tree in a snowy meadow, it could make a theoretically picturesque moment according to Price.   This brought to mind the various horror genres, specifically the fairly recent Sleepy Hollow rendition.  The trees were all the same twisted scene, and yet it was not a single tree, or a few trees, but a forest of age-weathered and ‘warped’ trees.  The entire scene moves away from the picturesque and into one of the sublime, where dread and horror lurk at the seeming lack of any beauty (smooth, predictable trees).   With thick enough brush, the eye can wander to endlessly without reaching the end of the maze of brambles and thickets whose end hides in plain sight.  Again, a single aspect of a sublime scene, while alone, can seem to be picturesque.

I was thinking of one type of example in particular.  When one goes to a dock or a shipping yard, one sees the many types of boats and vessels.  Sometimes there are so many, when standing on the docks, that one is overwhelmed by how many boats there are, especially if there is some sort of race going on.  However, when one sees a lone abandoned boat along the shoreline, rusted and disintegrating with waves slowly lapping at its base, one can imagine a picturesque scene.  Put forty or sixty boats in the same condition and in relative proximity, and one may be transported from the feeling of the picturesque to a new sense of the sublime, where the imagination takes hold and wonders what great force caused the vessels to be there.  The possibility of the picturesque becoming the sublime I find intriguing in this respect.



The snow is lightly falling, obscuring the shot slightly.  Everything is covered, suppressed by the wind, snow and cold.   No cars, no people are passing by the scene, leaving only the tracks in the snow while looking at the solitary bus shelter.

Abandoned to the cold

Abandoned to the cold

Seeing the benches half-covered, places once used now neglected and abandoned to the cold and snow, somehow reminded me of the picturesque.

The myriad of branches and twigs may have the beginnings of the sublime, and yet the sheer business of the next picture works to bring the picture somewhere between the picturesque and the sublime … to the mundane or merely curious?

picturesque to the sublime, to the merely curious and mundane?

picturesque to the sublime, to the merely curious and mundane?

Finally,  a photo that Price may, due to the smoothness of the tree and the unbroken snowy foreground, appear to have within it the seeds of the beautiful.


It is probably the case that of all the readings, Price stood out foremost in my mind: solely because he mentioned specifically aspects of music and other senses when constructing the sublime.  One can start to understand how and why people were drawn to Mahler symphonies, and why they may have gotten longer and longer, as his personal crisis and pain compelled him to seek to possibly express the sublime in his works.  The operatic works of Wagner, when using the ‘endless melodies’ also brings to mind how it strives towards the sublime.   In such ways, some of the impressionistic music of Debussy, e.g. his prelude Pas sur la neige, can induce Kant’s conception of the beautiful by having the listener absorb the sounds with a relaxed mind (a point which can be expanded on greatly).  This is probably why meditation clinics and such often are heard playing works by Satie.

I would argue with Price that music can also encompass the ‘picturesque’ qualities that the visual realm has.   Listening to music of the 1920s and 1930s, one can hear the crackling of the records and the degradation of the recordings over time when listening to them today.   One CD in particular comes to mind, that of a set of recordings of Schnabel playing Beethoven piano sonatas.  Due to the technology available at the time, his recordings were reputedly one-takes, so any small mistake remained.  These slight imperfections, along with the fuzzy and scratchy quality of the surviving recordings evoke, to me, what the picturesque can be in music to the aural realm as a painting of the ruins of a Gothic church can be to the visual realm.

– Alex


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