Artworks
The Artist Looks at Nature
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This classic Charles Sheeler painting is called The Artist Looks At Nature, but my guy is painting something else that isn’t nature?

Normally when you see someone posted at their easel with a view as gorgeous and unique as this one, it’s reflected in the painting. But not this time! While what you’re looking at might remind you of the grand staircase at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, the level of artistic depth more resembles Christopher Nolan’s "Inception." Charles Sheeler’s The Artist Looks At Nature is both exactly what and nothing that it claims to be, at the same time.

Let’s start with the obvious. This painting is full of nature, no matter how abstract or distant it may be conveyed. There’s green everywhere. Grassy plains and shrubby bushes. After my headache from trying to figure out this visual puzzle subsides, I think it’s a place I’d like to visit. If you look at the bottom right hand side of the painting, you’ll see Sheeler himself at an easel. This is the exact moment that things are going to get crazy. Take a deep breath, because you’re gonna be really stressed in a second.

In the painting, the image of Sheeler drawing is a version of his Self Portrait at Easel photograph from 1932. And just like in that photograph, he’s turning another of his photographs titled The Stove into the crayon drawing titled Interior With Stove. I know, it’s a bit confusing. But let me try and break it down for you in a concise, digestible manner: this is a painting painted by a guy who painted himself out in the fields drawing a picture of a photograph that he took himself years prior. Sheesh, that’s deeper than Robert Downey Jr. being a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude. I told you it’s like "Inception." There’s levels to this.

Sheeler was a pretty talented dude who started out as a photographer. And The Stove, the photograph that he eventually turned into the drawing Interior With Stove, was one of his earliest works from 1917, and one that kind of put him on the map. But after a while, he set aside the camera and picked up some brushes. With that in mind, it makes sense that he would include some of his early artistic identity into this puzzle of a painting.

In a way, The Artist Looks at Nature is an invitation into Sheeler’s mind. The name and theme of the painting are all deliberate. So that begs the question, why isn’t he drawing the beautiful conceptual plains that surround him? Maybe Sheeler is giving us his own definition of nature by giving us a glimpse at the many ways he knows how to produce his work. The man is clearly artistic. And that’s reflected in the unconventional and seemingly impossible proportions prevalent this painting. Nature is simply what occurs naturally in the world. Maybe, for Sheeler, it means something a little more complex. 

Sources

Sources

  1. The Art Story. “Charles Sheeler Artworks.” Accessed January 16, 2020 https://www.theartstory.org/artist/sheeler-charles/artworks/
  2. Smith, Roberta. “Art: By Charles Sheeler, Paintings and Drawings.” The New York Times. February 12, 1988. https://www.nytimes.com/1988/02/12/arts/art-by-charles-sheeler-paintings...
  3. Stamberg, Susan. “Charles Sheeler’s Still Life: Paintings from Photos.” NPR. May 23, 2006. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5410362