The concept is first. But what is a concept? We are talking aesthetics, not mathematics or ontology, though these may yet have their place at the end of it all. By concept I mean that motive or emotional content that a landscape is charged with, like a glow-in-the-dark t-shirt: it is felt more than thought.
I was out for a drive yesterday, and, passing by this field of wildflowers, I felt the concept even before I pulled over and got out of the car. The motive is excitement mixed with longing. The flowers are hopeful and are full of youthful anticipation, while the high humidity and distant tree line so soft by the water in the air, has an effect of longing on the soul. This is brought about by distance and blurred vision. One does not long for that which is near nor clear.
Motives like these may come in pairs in nature as a matter of course, I don’t know. But I love the juxtaposition of the two: longing and anticipation, which are almost contraries. Beauty, and by extension, Art, is the house and dwelling of contraries, which, by extension, is the house and dwelling of ambiguity—the lifeblood of all Art!
Ambiguity, motive, concept, these ideas only get us thinking about seeing. But to see a picture in real life, a something that really moved people to feel, the artist must first be moved by the scene. Hence, the task before him is both facile and difficult: it is easy to let things happen to you. What could you do to prevent it? The answer to that question is that you can do a thousand things to prevent seeing a picture of art in life.
Just a radio tower in a field, right? Yes, if you are not an artist, or don’t care to see like one. Turn down the radio, set aside the iPhone (unless you are using the camera!) and behold the dramatic scene before you! Note the verticality of the tower. It would seemingly stretch to the infinite blue above, but for the sheering wires that bound it, keep it limited and grounded, as it were. Here contraries come in again to play, this time the expanse of technology and the self-limiting condition. Or one could see the drama of Earth-bound communication (the wires) and cosmic communication (the radio)—or, if you really want a spiritually moving motive, you could see the tower reaching into Heaven (prayer) but bounded and kept down and concerned with the cares of the world, symbolized by the downward sloping horizontals of the wires.
These are but examples of how one might see as an artist. Everyone will have their own vision of beauty. Trust that if you are moved by a scene in life, because you actually stopped to look at it unfold and be, and if you can put words to it, thereby developing your concept and motive, then you will have a picture to paint!
God grant us the eyes of an artist, that we may behold in a finite way His infinitely majestic beauty. Amen.