National Identities In Artistic Representations Of Landscape English Literature Essay

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The nation or national identity is viewed by Anderson 2006 as an "imagined political community." He states that members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. This suggests that the identity of the nation can be created and therefore provides scope for holders of power to manifest or even impose their own national identities upon a state. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined (Anderson, 2006). The ways in which this can be achieved either by a nation's evolutionary history or by influential people and groups can be demonstrated in a number of ways that this essay will seek to explore. To further the idea of an imaginary community and the power that it has are highlighted by the many millions of people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for their country. As to why imaginings of recent history generate such colossal sacrifice, Anderson 2006 believes the answer lies in the cultural roots of nationalism. My description of the ways national identities can be produced will be centred on culture and the many elements that it entails.

In order to fully understand national identities the ideas of nationalism and the role of a nation should be observed. Nationalism is primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent. It is a theory of political legitimacy. (Gellner, 1983) Nationalism refers to an ideology, a form of culture, or even a social movement that focuses on the nation. The concept of nation is more complicated, as it is seen as natural. Having a nation is not an inherent attribute of humanity, but it has now come to appear as such. (Gellner, 1983) As an ideology, nationalism holds that 'the people' in the doctrine of popular sovereignty is the nation, and that as a result only nation-states founded on the principle of national self-determination are legitimate. Nationalism is closely linked with conflict and war because most states are multinational or and least contain numerous groups all with individual claims to national status. Regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each state, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. (Anderson, 2006)The main link between nationalism and arts influences on national identity is culture. The development of nationalism can be seen in the forms of music, symbolism, national anthems, national languages and even national treasures. The subconscious acts of flags on buildings, singing national anthems and supporting national sports teams all contribute to nationalistic feelings.

The largest factor effecting nationalism is culture. Culture is predominately generated via visual art and the way in which art is interpreted has a profound effect on the imagery created and thus the identity of a nations landscape. Panofsky 1939 sought to create a methodology for art interpretation to allow balanced and coherent messages to be generated. Panofsky's theoretical writings represent the search for what he called an "Archimedean point" from which to build a systematic interpretation of the visual arts (Moxey, 1986). Panofsky was prepared to admit the way in which the act of interpretation is compromised was a result of the interpreter's own position in history (Moxey, 1986). What links Panofsky to the discussion concerning national identity production is that the highest level of interpretation, that for which he coined the term "iconology," was that which dealt with the "general history of the human spirit." (Moxey, 1986). The importance placed upon the human spirit is a shared idea amongst scholars as shown by Anderson, 2006 who discussed perceived community feeling which can only occur as a resultant sense of human spirit.

To adequately look in depth at the formation of a national identity from music, literature and visual art I will be using Wales as my example of a nation. Welsh culture allows great exploration because there are many extrinsic factors that have led to a particular national identity being formed. The welsh language can be traced back to 800AD which means a welsh culture can be traced back to this period also. A form of the national Eisteddfod where a Bardic competition held by the Lord Rhys in Cardigan Castle in 1176 is another indicator of long standing welsh culture. It was a forum for poetry, music and literature as well as art that enhanced the imaginary feelings of the nation. Looking further ahead, Wales under the Tudors was a time of dramatic social, political and religious change. From this some Welsh people benefited greatly, and became influential beyond Wales. This is reflected in the art and luxury objects they owned which had influence from artists that had used Italy as inspiration. Therefore the eighteenth century brought growing concern with the expression of national identity through music, literature and the visual arts. There was a feeling that Wales had to separate itself from English culture and discover itself. The discovery that the Welsh were descendants of the ancient Celts went some way to cultivating a separate identity for Wales. This coupled with the revival of the National Eisteddfod to the modern day festival that we know today began in the latter part of the eighteenth century. In 1789 the Gwyneddigion Society of London decided to support and organise the various small eisteddfodau being held in taverns throughout north Wales at the time. Entering into the nineteenth century landscapes became popular with increased numbers of artists creating oil paintings of iconic natural beauty as well as the growing industrial towns like Merthyr Tydfil.

The first example of art that I will use is Thomas Jones's (1742-1803) The Bard which is based upon English Thomas Gray's legendary poet of Edward I's massacre of the Welsh bards. The last surviving bard is cursing the English invaders before hurling himself to his death from a high rock above the river Conway. In the background appear the bodies of the bards and a circle of druidic stones based upon Stonehenge. The way in which the bodies are just scatterd creates a feeling of anger against those who murdered them as they look pitiful and violated. As such a strong community felling can be taken from the whole seen as a result of the injustice of the foreign oppressor. The following extract of the poem describes the scene depicted in the painting:

He spoke, and headlong from the mountain's height

Deep in the roaring tide he plunged to endless night.

The idea behind the poem is that a nation's identity depends on its history, which storytelling and literature help keep alive. Even though the actual event probably never took place, the painting expresses a real fear that English domination will threaten Welsh culture, a fear that has persisted right up to the present day. The relevance of the arrangement of stones in the background, which curiously look like Stonehenge is to symbolise that the Welsh bards are descendants of the druids who met at Stonehenge in Salisbury from around 2500BC onwards. It links the influential histories of religion with Wales thus adding the feeling of greater heritage. The contrast of the picturesque sunset combined with the windy, rugged cliff top also create strong feelings that emphasise the bards suicidal thoughts but allow connection with the actual landscape. Mainly due to the fact that it is clear this bard is going to become one with the land and die nobly in the land of his birth.

An example of music which produces a certain type of wales is that of the hymn Arglwydd, arwain trwy'r anialwch which has evolved into the hymn now known as Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer (Watson 2002). The hymn has changed and shortened over time from an original version, written in 1745, with five verses. The hymn describes the experience of God's people in their travel through the wilderness from the escape from slavery in Egypt, Exodus 12-14. The hymn text forms an allegory for the journey of a Christian throughout their life on earth requiring the Redeemer's guidance and ending at the gates of Heaven (the verge of Jordan) and end of time (death of death and hell's destruction).The relevance this has to Welsh culture Is that the original version was in welsh and therefore symbolises the faith and importance of god in the people of wales. The fact that many towns in wales were industrialised in the 19th century meant lots of terraced housing was built by the owners of industries who would also built a chapel on the end of most streets. This meant high levels of faith in many valley towns especially across the south. With this high chapel attendance and the churches involvement in the community many men especially joined choirs. As such a culture developed in the south wales valleys of male voice choirs and they would sing old hymns such as Arglwydd, arwain trwy'r anialwch. It reinforced their welsh language at a time when the English land owners were trying to eradicate it created a community spirit centred around God that these people could collectively belong too. This hymn has remained popular over the past three century's and very much symbolises welsh culture. This is demonstrated by this hymn being sung at British state occasions including both the funerals of Diana, Princess of Wales and The Queen Mother. Apart from church use, probably its best known use is as the 'Welsh Rugby Hymn', often sung by the crowd at rugby matches, especially those of the Wales national rugby union team. There it is common for all voices to sing the repeat of the last three syllables of the last-but-one line, e.g. evermore, strength and shield. This furthers the creation of a united feeling and produces that unique sense of nationality.

In summary of the points above, through music, literature and visual art a certain type of nation can be created. Nationalism creates nations, not the other way around (Gellner, 1983). As a result the way in which culture influences nationalism as an ideology can therefore create a nation. It can thus be said that through songs, poetry and paintings a nation can be invented or even re-invented in the style of the culture that creates it.