Long before humans could speak, they were drawing images of nature. Botanical artists continue that tradition. By showing the plant by itself, in its natural splendor, a botanical artist elevates a plant above the mundane, and into something truly sublime. Better yet, botanical art makes exceptional use of color, meeting or exceeding those in the natural world.
Botanical art is not a new concept. The Chinese were the first botanical artists with a tradition starting at least a thousand years before Christ. While individual botanical artists had different methods, they each shared common principles. Each artist sought to portray the flow or plant as a singular object, even when they were painting landscapes. For the Chinese artist, the landscape was beautiful for its negative space. Building on the Taoist and Buddhist principles of emptiness, Chinese botanical artists believed that negative space was the most beautiful thing in the world, and accentuated the plant world. These ideas later spread throughout all of East Asia.
Later botanical artists often associated less spiritual weight to their art. Giusseppe Archimboldo, a Renaissance painter, painted a man made up of several flowers. Rococo botanicals were often whimsy, fitting the style. Throughout the Enlightenment and into the 19th century, botanical decorations devolved into travesties of the Chinese masters, often being used as little more than ornaments.
Today, botanical artists are reviving the rightful role of the plants. Contemporary botanical artists, like Wendy Hollender, are reviving the Chinese appreciation of emptiness. Others use brilliant colors to make botanicals stand out, and a few have sought to abstract the botanical. There is no limit on the creativity botanical artists use.
Botanical art is as old as the human ability to manipulate a paint brush. Our ancestors sought to honor our plant friends through myriad ways, either by emphasizing the plant itself or the emptiness surrounding the plant. As art moves onward and upwards, one wonders what advances must come next.