Thursday, January 22, 2015

Imitations of the pasture

J. M. W. Turner, The Deer in Petworth Park, 1827
In The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) Thorstein Veblen argued that different views of what is beautiful reflect a 'code of reputability' that varies between classes, and the leisure class will not value things on the basis of mere utility.  When it comes to landscape, the close-cropped lawn appeals on an atavistic level, 'beautiful in the eyes of a people whose inherited bent it is to readily find pleasure in contemplating a well-preserved pasture or grazing land.'  But it would lose its beauty for the leisure class if it were genuinely productive, or gave that impression.  In particular,
'the vulgar suggestion of thrift, which is nearly inseparable from the cow, is a standing objection to the decorative use of this animal. So that in all cases, except where luxurious surroundings negate this suggestion, the use of the cow as an object of taste must be avoided. Where the predilection for some grazing animal to fill out the suggestion of the pasture is too strong to be suppressed, the cow's place is often given to some more or less inadequate substitute, such as deer, antelopes, or some such exotic beast. These substitutes, although less beautiful to the pastoral eye of Western man than the cow, are in such cases preferred because of their superior expensiveness or futility, and their consequent repute. They are not vulgarly lucrative either in fact or in suggestion.
Public parks of course fall in the same category with the lawn; they too, at their best, are imitations of the pasture. Such a park is of course best kept by grazing, and the cattle on the grass are themselves no mean addition to the beauty of the thing, as need scarcely be insisted on with anyone who has once seen a well-kept pasture. But it is worth noting, as an expression of the pecuniary element in popular taste, that such a method of keeping public grounds is seldom resorted to. The best that is done by skilled workmen under the supervision of a trained keeper is a more or less close imitation of a pasture, but the result invariably falls somewhat short of the artistic effect of grazing. But to the average popular apprehension a herd of cattle so pointedly suggests thrift and usefulness that their presence in the public pleasure ground would be intolerably cheap. This method of keeping grounds is comparatively inexpensive, therefore it is indecorous.'

William Merrit Chase, View from Central Park, 1889

1 comment:

uair01 said...

Nowadays herds of sheep are used to mow the grass in our Rotterdam city parks instead of lawn-mowers.