Wendy hollender

Contemporary botanical artists do more than just make pretty pictures. They transcribe the story of a living organism, in exquisite detail, from hidden roots to the tips of leaves. They preserve the form and function of countless species of plant and flower, faithfully capturing the grace and grandeur of the most plentiful form of life on our planet, so that we might better understand it. A botanical artist is a scientist, a historian, and, by nature, a keen observer of the world.

Botanical artwork was originally a purely scientific endeavor, seeking to provide a visual reference for herbalists and medical practitioners. Since the proper identification of a species of plant could literally mean the difference between helpful medicine and a deadly poison, botanical painters took great pains to provide detailed representations, often accompanied by written notes, to avoid any possibility of confusion. Skill was valued not necessarily for aesthetic vision, but for clarity of depiction.

While the practical need for botanical drawings and paintings has all but disappeared, the artistic value has been preserved and celebrated, experiencing a recent resurgence of popularity. Contemporary botanical artists enjoy a new kind of celebrity in the world of visual arts, as evidenced by numerous gallery shows, traveling exhibits, and collections for sale.

The current crop of artists is divided into two main camps. The traditionalists adhere to the original style of botanical art, showing details and alternate views, and often including the written descriptions common to their predecessors. More progressive botanical art infuses this style with a more individual approach, breaking out of the customary patterns and methods and finding new means of expression within the medium.

No matter the style in question, contemporary botanical artists all have one thing in common. They show us the world around us in a way we would never otherwise get to experience. They help us to taste the exotic, appreciate the mundane, and better understand the complex world at our very feet.