Wisley: a garden debate at Wisley

June 7, 2014

in Editorial, Events, Forthcoming

Grasses  Veddw 150 View across grasses copyright Anne Wareham for thinkingardens

Is this art? Or?

Are gardens art? – the debate 


28th of June from 1.00pm until we shut up.

Anne Wareham (you’ve heard of her…), Dr. Noel Kingsbury, Kathryn Aalto and Professor David Cooper lead the debate, which is chaired by Andrew Wilson. Details here 

Any chance anyone would be good enough to write it up for thinkingardens?

Be there! 

Anne Wareham, editor

 Wild garden Veddw mid August copyright Anne Wareham  for thinkingardens

More gratuitous advertising of Veddw..


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Paul Steer' June 11, 2014 at 8:05 pm

I hope you have a lively debate, wish I could be there ! The answer though is a definite yes. If the argument against that view is based on their constant change or their temporary nature then performance art is not art. It’s all about the concept or vision of the garden maker. It’s a form of sculpture.

annewareham June 11, 2014 at 10:57 pm

Sculpture with an element of music… dance…? Performance…..

Paul Steer' June 12, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Yes and visual poetry! But you need to understand the language or have clues about the artists vision.

annewareham June 12, 2014 at 1:39 pm

hmm.. probably right.

skr June 15, 2014 at 5:23 pm

I disagree. Good art provides an aesthetic experience regardless of the viewers intellectual understanding of the content. Art that relies on the viewer understanding the metanarratives being referenced by symbols and metaphor is doomed to failure in a fractured globalised world where metanarratives are not shared.

Holly Allen June 16, 2014 at 12:02 pm

‘Good art’ can’t be distilled into the narrow sphere of pure aesthetics in any case – that is a very quaint, old-fashioned idea. How exactly is garden art more reliant on a viewer understanding ‘metanarratives’ and their associated symbolism than any other kind of art? Just because you are looking at art, deemed to be art, by people in the art world, doesn’t make something traditionally outside of that sphere not art, or any more or less difficult to decipher. So there.

skr June 17, 2014 at 6:12 am

The idea might be quaint if aesthetics were limited to beauty as in times past, but that arena has expanded to include other forms of aesthetics experiences like the sublime or grotesque. The inclusion of which still seems to greatly disturb people.

With regards to the metanarratives, I think you missed the point. The argument was that in culturally diverse societies, metanarratives aren’t shared in the way they were in more homogeneous societies. Therefore the reliance on symbols that reference those previously hegemonic metanarratives is problematic because you will be excluding large swathes of society that won’t understand the symbolism. When people aren’t able to get the symbolism or understand the metaphor they are not going to be engaged with the art and find it of poor quality.

annewareham June 17, 2014 at 10:03 am

(Nothing new in including the sublime or grotesque, esp in relation to gardens…)

skr June 18, 2014 at 2:25 am

The sublime has been present for a long time in gardens by virtue of their relationship with nature. But the grotesque I’m not so sure about. I don’t find the classical ‘grotesque’ to be all that grotesque from a modern standpoint. When I think grotesque I think Paul McCarthy or Egon Schiele not what are now just quirky gothic drain spouts.

And I would like to see a grotesque garden not just a garden with grotesque sculpture in it.

annewareham June 18, 2014 at 9:15 am

Me too! (AW)

skr June 17, 2014 at 6:16 am

Aesthetic experience has nothing to do with the opinions of the art aristocracy. It is an entirely subjective and idiosyncratic phenomenon.

Paul Steer June 17, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Oh well if you insist – but I have found a deeper pleasure when I begin to see the world as the artist sees it.

skr June 18, 2014 at 2:04 am

I was thinking more of how the critic sees it with that comment.

Paul Steer June 16, 2014 at 10:08 pm

I understand your view and agree that the arts can be enjoyed and appreciated without explanation. But in my humble experience, getting to know the artist and their vision enhances the aesthetic experience.

skr June 18, 2014 at 2:09 am

That is much like the relationship between an artist and collector. When dealing with personal gardens that relationship is more easily accessible but with regards to public gardens and parks that relationship is less likely to be achieved by the majority of viewers. While I agree that that more intimate relationship can enhance the experience, it should not be a necessary prerequisite for appreciation. I find that art that requires explanation is generally poorly executed.

Helen Gazeley June 9, 2014 at 4:34 pm

We’ve booked our tickets. Look forward to seeing you there, Anne.

annewareham June 10, 2014 at 12:04 am

Hurray! (wonder if you’d write it up….?)

Helen Gazeley June 10, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Won’t rule it out. Can we see nearer the time, if no one else leaps to volunteer?

annewareham June 10, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Thank you and yes, of course.. (Prods a few unoffering volunteers hopefully with handy garden cane……) Xx

Kjeld Slot June 9, 2014 at 8:43 am

I´ll look forward to it Anne, but not from me, with my bad english, – you know I like your pen!


annewareham June 9, 2014 at 9:19 am

You need a brilliant translator, is all….

Kjeld Slot June 7, 2014 at 1:17 am


I have no doubt.
And the quote of the Danish artist Carl Theodor Sørensen nails it:
“Let me repeat again and again that garden as work of art is a real concept. And it is more akin to fine arts than architecture, in essence free as literature, painting, sculpture and music. The gardens we go to visit, that give us experiences, that live in our minds – they are created by artists.”
C. Th. Sørensen 1893 – 1979

C. Th. worked as a professor at the Danish Academy of fine Art in Copenhagen on the Landscapesection similar to the sections of paintings and sculptures.
He never hesitated speaking about gardens as art and taught his students to make an artistic effort drawing gardens and landscaping

But; making gardens is not a garantee of creating art.

One of the main reasons why I´m not a fan of Rory Stuarts book `What are Gardens for is, that I think he brings the oldfashion way of making conclusions of gardens up again and again. – at the same time his way to describe art has a very outdated attitude and his gardentypes in the book are all the same in my opinion.
I get annoyed! – I think his book can be usefull in systematizing sports cars. Maybe it´s because I don´t understand the writing in his book. To me; art are much more than granite and oil on canvas.

I think it´s a problem that he on one hand claims in his introduction, that “Gardens are places where we can express ourselves as artists” and seconds later question; “But can gardens be thought of as a work of art?” -Hegel meant it could not – and finally he concludes “A second objection to calling gardens works of art is that they have no definite shape since they lack a conclusion; instead, because they are dominated by time, they are in a constant state of evolution.”
Yes – and so is landart – although it does not necessarily have a specific shape or definition or conclusion and may be limited due to age.
Just like gardens!

If the creator of a garden has an artistic intention, when he or she makes the garden, then the garden can be a form of art.
But most people don´t have these thoughts or consider whether they want to create art or not. They just make gardens. – That´s why most gardens are no form of art

A drawing from a landscapearchitect which was meant to be a work of art can easily be destroyed by the gardener when he makes the garden, and a bad design from a bad gardendesigner can very well become a piece of art, if the owner has artistic skills and want to use them in his garden.

A garden cannot grow into art itself.

Art is created by artists not by accident!

A nice weekend to everybody.
Kjeld Slot

annewareham June 8, 2014 at 8:46 pm

There might be a thinkingardens piece here, Kjeld?

Catherine June 7, 2014 at 12:36 am

Any chance this could be audio recorded for those of us too far flung to get to Wisley?

annewareham June 7, 2014 at 9:58 am

That would be great – and/or I would love someone to write a report for thinkingardens. (HINT).But I’m not organising this – perhaps you might contact the RHS or staff at Wisley?

skr June 18, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Susan over at garden rant posted this (I may have mentioned that if we expressed interest they might record it ;)) Well they got some interest and contacted GardenRant to say pull the request to send emails. They have received too many emails and they aren’t going to record it because they don’t have enough time to coordinate it. But how hard is it to get a camera and stick it on a tripod?

annewareham June 18, 2014 at 6:28 pm

That is a great shame. Perhaps someone else might do it? Any volunteers would be greatly appreciated.

skr June 18, 2014 at 7:42 pm

And the hort. societies wonder why they aren’t attacting young people. Regularly scheduled meetings in the middle of dinner hours unless you are eating at 5pm. Fortysomethings being the youngest at meetings by decades. Websites that weren’t very useful 20 years ago let alone today. No discussion forum presence. No youtube presence. No meetup groups. Basically zero understanding about how people connect to social groups in modern society at all. Guess what? Plant giveaways at meetings just don’t cut it anymore. It’s all very frustrating.

skr June 15, 2014 at 12:17 am

I too would like to have this recorded in some manner. Since we are in the YouTube era, video would probably be most appropriate.

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