Representations of landscapes in Australian art

Curriculum overview

The Australian Curriculum: Geography content description addressed in the illustration is:

  • The aesthetic, cultural and spiritual value of landscapes and landforms for people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (ACHGK049).

Source: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)

Learning goals

The illustration-specific learning goals are:

  • recognising the aesthetic significance of geomorphic landscapes in Australian literature, film, art and identity 
  • interpreting and analysing geographical information and representations (landscape paintings)
  • appreciating the uniqueness of Australian landscapes
  • applying criteria to judge the relative appeal of a landscape.

Geographical understanding and context

As part of their study of landforms and landscapes, Year 8 students investigate their aesthetic, cultural and spiritual value. In this illustration the focus is on the ways in which painters have portrayed the Australian landscape over time. 

The term 'aesthetics' refers to the relative attractiveness or beauty of a particular landscape. Not all landscapes are as equally appealing to all people. What may appeal to one person may not appeal to another. Ultimately, these are subjective and personal judgements. People will apply their own set of criteria when judging the relative appeal of a landscape. The same applies to the representations of landscapes including photographs and paintings. 

For some people, landscapes also hold special spiritual significance. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for example, recognise that features of the landscape such as rivers, mountains or even an individual tree have a spiritual value.

By engaging with the creative arts, young people develop their understanding of places, environments, events and lifestyles which they may not have had the opportunity to observe with their own eyes. When students look at a landscape painting they could ask questions like:

  • What do I see?
  • Where is it? 
  • What is going on?
  • Why does it look the way it does?

They might also ask:

  • How has it changed over time?
  • What would it be like to visit the place?
  • What are the geomorphic processes responsible for its formation? 

By exploring the art works available on the websites of Australia's art galleries it is possible to find a huge variety of Australian landscapes. Details on the nature, form and processes involved in creating them are often provided. 

Teaching approaches

This illustration enables students to develop their understanding of the aesthetic value of landscapes and how the portrayal of Australian landscapes has changed over time. 

1. Developing awareness

By way of orientation, introduce your students to the concept of 'aesthetics'. Note that people don't find all landscapes equally appealing, and that what might appeal to one person may not appeal to another. Also note the subjectivity of such judgements and that people apply their own set of criteria when judging the relative appeal of a landscape. 

Ask your class why landscape painting has played an important role in developing our awareness and appreciation of the world's unique landscapes. Note that landscape painting was the principal means by which people gained knowledge of the world's different landscapes before the development of cameras. Note also that travel was once the preserve of the very rich. 

2. Research – exploring Indigenous art

Ask your students to conduct a research task using the Internet to investigate the artistic traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Students should look for:

  • information on the modes or artistic expression
  • the techniques and materials used
  • the subject matter of the art and the spiritual basis of the art. 

They might also like to study one or more significant Indigenous artists. 

Australian landscape art (PDF, 1,352 KB) provides a brief introduction to the artistic tradition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

3. Considering early colonial art

Ask your students to study the paintings by early colonial artists (Figures 2–4) featured in Australian landscape art (PDF, 1,352 KB). Suggest why these artists have been criticised for applying European perspectives and techniques to their artistic depiction of the Australian landscape. Ask students to consider, from their perspective, whether the images are an accurate portrayal of the Australian landscape? 

4. Considering the Impressionists

Draw your students' attention to Figures 5–7 featured in Australian landscape art (PDF, 1,352 KB). Discuss the manner in which Australian landscapes are portrayed by Impressionist artists of the Heidelberg School, especially focussing on the colours. Are these more indicative of the Australian landscape compared with those used by the earlier colonial artists? In what ways did the artists featured here idealise the Australian landscape and romanticise the bush tradition and the pioneer way of life?

5. Considering symbolic and abstract art

Introduce your students to the artists and paintings of the symbolic realist and abstractionist traditions – Figures 8–11 in Australian landscape art (PDF, 1,352 KB). There are also links on the final page to access images of abstract works. Ask your students to describe how these paintings differ from earlier traditions. 

6. Exploring personal perspectives

Ask your students to individually rank the paintings from 1 to 12, with '1' being the painting that most appeals to them. Working in groups, students can negotiate a group-based ranking of the paintings. Going around the class, ask each group to outline their ranking. Ask each group to explain why they chose the selected image and to outline the criteria the group used. 

7. Developing an illustrated report

Ask each student to select one of the artists listed in Australian landscape art (PDF, 1,352 KB). Students then undertake their own research into the work of the artist using the Internet. They are to focus on the artist's approach to landscape interpretation. 

The following major Australian galleries will be a good place to start.

  • Art Gallery NSW 
  • Art Gallery of South Australia 
  • Museum of Contemporary Art 
  • Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory 
  • National Gallery of Australia
  • National Gallery of Victoria 
  • Newcastle Art Gallery 
  • Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) 
  • Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery 

Students present their findings as an illustrated report which should include at least three images indicative of the artist's work. For selected artworks, pose the following questions:

  • What do you see when you look at the painting?
  • Where is it?
  • What is going on?
  • Why does it look the way it does? 
  • What would it be like to visit the place?
  • What are the geomorphic processes responsible for  the landscape formation?
  • What about this landscape appeals to you?

What you need

Access to the Internet.

Australian landscape art (PDF, 1,352 KB).

Time allocation: 2 or 3 one-hour lessons.

Curriculum connections

This illustration links with the content descriptions of the following Phase 1 Australian Curriculum.

English

  • Explore the ways that ideas and viewpoints in literary texts drawn from different historical, social and cultural contexts may reflect or challenge the values of individuals and groups (ACELT1626)

Science

  • Summarise data, from students' own investigations and secondary sources, and use scientific understanding to identify relationships and draw conclusions (ACSIS145)

Source: Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

Resources

Australian landscape art (PDF, 1,352 KB).

Websites:

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). Australian Curriculum: Geography. Retrieved May 2013, from: www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Geography/Rationale

Art Gallery of NSW. Retrieved January 2013, from: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/

Art Gallery of South Australia. Retrieved January 2013, from: http://www.artgallery.sa.gov.au/agsa/home

Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory. Retrieved January 2013, from: http://artsandmuseums.nt.gov.au/museums

Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved January 2013, from: http://www.mca.com.au/

National Gallery of Australia. Retrieved January 2013, from: http://nga.gov.au/Home/Default.cfm

National Gallery of Victoria. Retrieved January 2013, from: http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/

Newcastle Art Gallery. Retrieved January 2013, from: http://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au/nag

Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). Retrieved January 2013, from: http://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Retrieved January 2013, from: http://www.tmag.tas.gov.au/

All other required resources are listed in the 'What you need' section above.