Emerson’s Nature and the Artists

From Penguin Random House/Prestel: Illustrated by classic American paintings and photographs, and accompanied with a prescient new appraisal, this stunning new edition of Emerson’s seminal 1836 essay is at once a meditation on the ways artists influence each other and a timely cris de couer to cherish and preserve America’s landscape.

Widely considered to be the foundational text of the American landscape tradition, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature (1836) urges Americans to value and immerse themselves in their country’s landscape, to build American culture from America’s nature. Nearly two centuries after its original publication, this captivating new edition by critic and historian Tyler Green brings together a selection of artworks in dialogue with Emerson’s text. Green also offers his own fascinating take on Nature through new research into how the essay was informed by Emerson’s study of art and, in turn, how Nature informed American art well into the twentieth century. Green’s essays also examine how Emerson joined his whackadoodle Anglo-Saxon race theory to his ideas about American nature in ways that baked whiteness into the American landscape tradition; and consider the concurrent production of Nature and Thomas Cole’s great The Oxbow, as well as several of the many major American dadaist and precisionist artworks that were direct, often cheeky addresses of both Emerson and Nature.

Each of the 75 artworks published and discussed in the book has been made available by art museums and libraries with open access policies. In Nature, Emerson defined “landscape” as a public commons, a definition that would inform, among much else, the Civil War-era invention of the national park at Yosemite. In using only works museums and libraries have made available under open access, Green underscores how such policies are an adaptation of Emerson’s anti-capitalist public commons idea to the digital sphere.

The result is a unique melding of essay, art, and ideas that will draw new readers to Emerson’s writings, while also introducing a fresh perspective on a critical contribution to the American canon.

Pre-order it here!