GULF COAST ZEITGEIST
A Natural Appreciation
The “habitual contemplation of greatness”—in Alfred North Whitehead’s rubric—must inform and inspire us. Greatness—and excellence—are best and most lasting communicated through the arts. — J. Carter Brown, National Gallery of Art director emeritus
When I began to type this column, I clicked on an icon that looks like a paper file folder on my computer screen. When I want to delete something, I click on a “trash can” and hear a satisfying sound like paper crunching. When I volunteer to take photos of visitors on the beach with their smartphones, they assure me that I’ll know the picture “took” when I hear the click of the “shutter.”
These digital designs are examples of skeuomorphs— from the Greek skeuos (tool, equipment) and morph (form, shape); they are imaginary mimics of a physical predecessor, designed by a human being to make it easier for us to interface with computers. Useful, but not necessarily inspiring.
Here on our Gulf Coast there is no need to imitate nature’s designs; we are lured to set aside the skeuomorphs and put ourselves inside the real picture. It can begin with taking a hike (which Americans define as “walking around in the woods”). I prefer the Japanese term shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bathing.” Singer/songwriter John Denver rhapsodized that such a stroll in the wild would “fill up my senses.” Islanders often wander down a trail, ride a bike, pull over and stop the car or just set up a lawn chair anywhere outside and allow the sights, sounds, fragrances and feel of our good nature to wash over us.
Another way we respond to Mother Nature’s artwork is to use her supplies to make our own designs: Kids tempt us to join them in making sandcastles and forts near the tide line; romantics charm beachgoers with their love letters in the sand; folks of all types channel the artist within when they shape sand, decorate with shells, trim with seaweed and landscape with driftwood to craft amateur exhibits.
It’s also inspiring to sample the great works of professional artists and designers. Most galleries welcome observers free of charge. One can combine a pleasurable walk with window shopping at our many stores; you are invited to pop in to cool off or wait out a rain shower and enjoy the colorful creations of many an artistic imagination—no computer skills or Internet connections necessary.
In 2017 it was estimated that the average American consumer spends more than $56,000 every year. While most of that money goes toward basic necessities, the figure also includes a whole lot of impulse buys. One of the benefits of our healthy, clean environment is that all these ways to share in the excellence of nature’s art and design are free. Imagine that. I recall a cartoon from the strip entitled Family Circus that depicts the family of five watching the sun go down, and one of the children says: “How much would it cost to see a sunset if God decided to charge for it?”
Dr. Randall H. Niehoff has been taking up Mother Nature’s invitation to enjoy her art and design on Sanibel since 1991.