Why artists return to nature

by Crispy Chicken

Mature artists often seem to lose patience with art itself and return to nature”, often describing it as the essential source of inspiration of which art is just an attempt to isolate a single thread or imitate in some narrow medium.

I think there’s a very good and general reason for this to be the case: nature is self-organized with complex situations more than the human mind can fathom, but art is bottlenecked by the generalized reading game that the artist participates in.

Art is created by the artist, and no matter how genius the artist or how much they are able to act as a conduit for forces more complex than themselves, it is the artist’s pen that is fundamentally the bottleneck in complexity. Deeply complex things that demand expression may make their case to the artist, but they will be projected down into the complexity of the medium and the artist’s ability to express it.

This expressive ability isn’t necessarily bottlenecked by explicit understanding: artists are constantly expressing things in art they are incapable of representing explicitly in language. But there is some kind of bottleneck created by the artist’s expressive capacity.

Nature isn’t like that, unless you want to hypothesize God and say its bottlenecked by their creativity. Since we have no idea what that bottleneck is, we’d backwards engineer it from reality, so it wouldn’t be perceived as a bottleneck by us in practice.

Nature is self-organized and is the thing that puts together our capacity for thought: it contains more complexity than we can possibly capture in our heads, leading us to find explanatory patterns that allow us to explain some of what’s going on more simply (but never all, because we can’t compress nature into a small enough format to fit the human mind). Nature is also mostly unconcerned about communicating with humans, which means that examining nature is an exercise in expanding one’s generalized reading vocabulary.

The end result is that artists can seek new partial isomorphisms with their experience infinitely in nature. This is theoretically possible in art, but often a given era of art will be endless shitty variations of a theme on the same isomorphism as each artists tries to speak in approximately the same ways with approximately the same audiences. There is certainly plenty of variation in art, but it’s often either random or too directly derived from recognized artistic environments to lead to truly new complexity.

Art is, at the end of the day, more contrived than nature: it is human’s contrivance towards kinds of expression they are incapable of explicilty representing with the same force. But nature’s massive computation machine and endless store of time has created perceivable systems that express truths it is difficult to derive from human discourse, until they are inserted directly into the discourse through art itself.