Let the Art Speak—Regarding the Land | Joel Sheesley

Upper House Events

29-11-2023 • 48 mins

This recording is from our Let the Art Speak conference on April 15, 2023. Joel Sheesley was one of a few presenters throughout the day.

Through the ages, artists of all types have been captivated by the beauty of the natural world. Consider Albrecht Dürer, who painted a nature study titled Great Piece of Turf (1503) featuring sweet-meadow grass and dandelions; a masterpiece, it hangs in the Albertina Museum in Vienna. You will likely find contemporary sculptor Andy Goldsworthy’s work outside a museum. A creator of ephemeral installations that include stones, leaves, sticks, snow, ice, and other natural materials, he calls his artistic process a “collaboration with nature.” In outdoor ampitheaters and concert halls, American composer Aaron Copland’s music plays, capturing the vastness of the American landscape—wide open prairies, Appalachian meadows, bird song. And through the written word, Mary Oliver’s poetry conjures the “wonder and pain” of nature and heralds our need to notice, and identify with, the world around us. Her poem, Wild Geese (2004) is a wonderful example of this.

The land has been and remains the subject of innumerable creative works. Though it suffers drought, fire, floods, and abuse, the earth is ringed with beauty, both subtle and fierce. The land invites observation, wonder, and acknowledgment—by artists and lovers of art together. Viewers, listeners, dancers, and readers share a deep appreciation of the land’s textured character. And artists bear witness to the land and its multi-faceted nature. Together they will find themselves in good company at this year’s Let the Art Speak conference, where the land—as subject and muse—will be front and center.

Joel Sheesley, Emeritus Professor of Art at Wheaton College, is a painter whose current work focuses on the landscape. In 2014-15, in conjunction with the Wheaton Park District, he painted exclusively on-site in Wheaton’s Lincoln Marsh Natural Area. Now he collaborates with The Conservation Foundation to raise awareness of the environmental importance of the Fox River and the Fox Valley. He is currently painting Fox River landscapes from West Dundee down to Ottawa, IL, where the Fox River joins the Illinois River. Sheesley has been a recipient of an Illinois Artist’s Fellowship, has exhibited his work in Chicago galleries, had a solo exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center, and is in numerous art collections. Sheesley is also the author of several books including A Fox River Testimony (Conservation Foundation, 2018). He lives with his wife Joan in Wheaton, IL.

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