For a number of years I’ve been giving a lecture at the end of the year to my property students about images of property (and particularly development of property) in landscape art. It’s a fun talk, which I give when I realize that folks are tired after nearly a year of law school and need a break from the typical routine. I got the idea from Leo Marx’ Machine in the Garden and then refined it while reading Angela Miller’s Empire of the Eye. I often begin with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature. Something along the lines of:
The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men’s farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.
Then I begin to show some ways that American artists have depicted (and celebrated) our development of land. I use George Inness’ Lackawana Valley (shown below). Look at the machine going through the the fields of cut-stumps; the railroad roundhouse in the background; the smoke stack even further off; what a strange juxaposition (it seems at first) of humans and nature. While it seems strange at first, my point is that landscape art is part of the celebration of human’s use of land.