Story posted April 30, 2009
A recent painting by Thomas Cornell, Bowdoin artist-in-residence, is on display at the National Academy in New York City through June 10, 2009. The Education of Nature reflects Cornell's ongoing examination of what he terms "the modern cultural struggle to justly negotiate the new ecological order."
The work depicts a largely pastoral landscape, peopled with modern and classical figures that are at once intimate and enigmatic. A mother in the foreground introduces a child to geometric forms. The father shows an older child an injured bird while a violinist looks on. In the distance, war fires burn and Abraham throws away his sacrificial knife. A modernly dressed architect stands with T-square and drawings.
"The painting proposes that we must distinguish the difference between raw primordial nature, with its pain and disease, and the morally beautiful nature that we desire and now must design," says Cornell. "I am proposing that this is true genesis. So Abraham drops his knife, signifying the end of tribal predation and on the right, war commits suicide. The architect is emblematic of the fact that globalism demands the necessity of environmental design and moral norms."
The statement from the National Academy catalogue reads: "The premise of The Education of Nature is the necessity of redesigning nature for social and environmental justice. We must see and transfigure the system of nature and reject idealistic supernatural illusions."
Cornell, who has been a Bowdoin art professor since 1962, has been exploring themes of environmental justice in his paintings for several years. He was elected to the prestigious National Academy in 1983, and his paintings from the last two member exhibitions were selected for review in The New York Times.